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Friday, September 23, 2011

Steven Wilson Grace For Drowning

Steven Wilson
Grace For Drowning

Is it really only three years since Steven Wilson’s solo debut Insurgentes? While other artists might have been slowly gathering momentum for their next big thing, Wilson has maintained his famously workaholic pace which, aside from working with Opeth, Blackfield,  Pendulum, and Anathema, has also seen him remix just about every significant prog album from the 1970s. 

After his revelatory reworking of King Crimson’s back catalogue, Wilson says that he’s acquired a keener appreciation of the detail going into Robert Fripp’s creative decision making processes. The knock-on effect of that prolonged exposure has resulted in Wilson’s second solo outing being suffused with the eclectic depth and diversity that's such a commanding feature of those early recordings.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the 23-minute epic Raider II.  Featuring some Keith Tippett-like turns from Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess, and wind player Theo Travis channelling his inner Mel Collins, it’s impossible to ignore the Mellotron-infested echoes of KC’s Battle Of Glass Tears from Lizard in terms of breadth and ambition that's been hallmarked into the piece.

Delving into the rich seam of ‘70s-related invention doesn’t only extend to King Crimson. Remainder The Black Dog takes Karl Jenkins’ Soft Machine serpentine opus, Tale Of Taliesin as a jumping-off point for another extended construction built around a jazz-rock facade. As with Raider II, there’s a series of terse encounters that include oblique electric piano interludes, metallic blow-outs and fretful acoustic passages. Slyly oozing beneath it all is this meandering but oddly powerful acoustic piano motif which winds along like an insistent and implacable double-helix, surfacing malevolently in an ominous reprise toward the end.

Across his career, and with Porcupine Tree in particular, Wilson has always exercised an uncanny ability to empathise with, and articulate the view from the terminal outsider. These mediumistic skills are wryly deployed on Index, a creepy account of what happens when the collecting bug is taken to its darker and dangerous extremes.

Though boasting useful and telling appearances from some well known names such as Steve Hackett, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, Trey Gunn, etc., a particular highlight of the record is Nic France’s drumming. His jazzier inclinations add subtle bite and swing to Wilson’s compositions providing imaginative velocity on the big set pieces. A word of praise should also be set aside for Dave Stewart, whose sumptuous string and choral arrangements embellish Wilson’s yearning romanticism with a soaring, impassioned overtones.

Grace For Drowning shows an artist who is unafraid to let the music take its time to make a point. Allowing the resonances and internal references build and accrue across both albums presented in this package, Wilson scores some shiver-inducing successes without ever having to make a dash towards anything as vulgar as a quick-buck pay-off. The welcome by-product of this kind of confidence means the listener is provided with a wealth of entry-points to go deeper into Wilson’s strange but intriguing domain.

Steven Wilson - Raider II (Recording at Angel Studios) from Kscope on Vimeo.

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