As many of you know me on my facebook page and in real life scenarios of whatever situation I seem to be involved with- I swear my allegiance to whoever keep the genre of PROGRESSIVE ROCK alive and no one honors the tradition better than Wilson. WHATEVER project this gentlemen genius is involved with – whether it be any of the half-dozen or so bands he happens to be involved with creatively, behind the scenes of a computerized mixing board, or keeping the old classic rock flame alive with rejuvenated remixes of early seventies rock albums of diversified bands such as Jethro Tull, King Crimson, XTC, Simple Minds, Caravan, or Yes – I most of the time, I HAVE to be in front of the line for it (although the Tull ones are slightly expensive that sometimes requires mortgaging a house or two)
And for the past five years, he’s also founded his own mail-order distribution website and record label of other like-minded bands and individual who share his diverse musical interests; such as two of his label mates I covered last month called North Atlantic Oscillation and Engineers.
Oddly enough when I first heard of this lad – I wasn’t that overtly impressed. First off, he’s four and a half years younger than me – same age as my half-sister in New Jersey which already instantly has made me envious. The first time I ever heard the words “Porcupine Tree” was on a cassette single being passed out free at a Los Angeles Progressive Rock festival that was held one weekend nearly two decades ago at the downtown Los Angeles Variety Arts Center, WHICH is still standing there to this very day across the street from the flourishing LA LIVE entertainment center (where I eventually got to see PT’s The Incident Tour and SW’s last solo tour promoting The Raven Who Refused to Sing album) but isn’t used much for anything anymore. Yeah, the single – WAITING sounded like something as if I accidentally stumbled in a HIPPIE commune out in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury area complete with bongo drums. It came across sounding too folky for me (but I appreciate more now these days since I’m a die-hard devotee). So I tossed the single aside in favor of listening to the Spock’s Beard and Flower Kings’ latest albums – of which were in my possession at the time.
Cut to a couple of months down the road – Ventura Blvd in Sherman Oaks to be precise – and I had an interview for a royalties clerk position at ARK 21 records, an alternative rock experimental label of which used to be co-owned by brothers’ Stewart and Miles Copeland (you don’t need me to explain to you of who those two dudes are, do you?) Porcupine Tree was once of their first signings for American distribution of the album Signify of which I was handed a promo copy of. They also had signed some established artists such as Belinda Carlisle, Alannah Myles, Eric Johnston, and the Human League. I didn’t get the job and I probably didn’t hang on to the promo very long and most likely traded it in without listening to it.
It wasn’t until three years later when I was hanging out briefly with the Zullo brothers – Mike, Joe, and Mark – a well renowned brother clan I used to hang with during my high school years in New Jersey during their many back and forth between East and West Coast. Younger brother Mark drove me out to a movie theater in Northridge to check out the X-Men movie for the umpteenth time and on the way in the car he kept playing this song with this weird piano staccato stabs throughout and then erupting in this cacophony blast of guitar chorus from his stereo speakers .
“Check out this lyric line Coat,” Mark will pause for me”Credit me with some intelligence (and not just credit me)/ I come in value packs of ten (in five varieties).”
“That’s fucking brilliant.” I proclaimed.
Of course, I didn’t know what it meant (the lyric was in reference to Christine Keeler ,a high London era socialite who got in a little over her head sleeping around with members of British Parliament that would make the cast of House of Cards even red-faced with shame)- but I was intrigued enough wanting to hear more of , the 1999 follow-up to 1996’s Signify. So Mark burned me a copy and upon an immediate listen, I was hooked of how amazingly different, the band’s sound had evolved from the previous album. Not only that, I wasted no time in walking back to the store of where I originally pawned my copy of “Signify” called Moby Disc and found it in the bargain bin unmolested for 3 bucks. Bought it back and from then on, I started to regard the catalogue of Porcupine Tree in the same league as the other bands I regularly listened to such as Marillion, Flower Kings, IQ, and Arena.
The earlier PT albums that technically weren’t band efforts such as the Delirium releases, In the Sunday of Life, Voyage 34, Up The Downstair, and The Sky Always Moves Sideways weren’t that easy to track down. I stumbled upon most of them on a trip back from the San Diego Comic Con when I used to visit my own old haunts in Encinitas CA (please see my previous YES LOGS for more vivid details) and I went all nostalgia for spending a midsummer’s afternoon in my favorite record store in all the Northern San Diego area, Lou’s Records along the Pacific Coast Highway in the Leucadia town county to be precise.
Lou’s Records – a beloved hangout from my San Diego days that I still occasionally like to visit – found many of Porcupine Tree’s Delirium era albums here.
From then on, I became an avid follower of Steven Wilson’s projects. I must have them on the first day of release – either it be the marvelous team up of Wilson and Israeli superstar performer Aviv Geffen in their collaborative four Blackfield albums, his melancholic soft Twin Peaks inspired shoegazing poetry with Tim Bowness in the No-Man efforts, or any guest starring role as a musician or producer/engineer with OSI, Fish (it took me a while to put two and two together of the wonderful production/ writing job he did with Fish on his Sunsets of Empire album), Marillion or Swedish bands Opeth, and Paatos – I try to be there at the ready with my CD player all warmed up. He has vast diverse tastes in how he picks or chooses his project
In addition to being an advocate of preserving the analogue integrity of sound recording without sacrificing digital compression, along with its’ original packaging ( a real album has to be experienced, not compressed unto some little device that fits in the palm of your hand and a touch of a button, you get a song, but one has NO idea of how the song comes about or WHO it’s accredited to – AND no lyrics to be read along or no album artwork to go with it – and Steven’s response to that – TAKE your damn Ipod or ipad out to a shooting range and fill it full-out of holes or get a hammer and lay your device gently down on some concrete and the hell out of it), Steven’s very passionate in the ways in how you experience music – mostly the old-fashioned way – on a hi-fi component system or on a record player – while you’re reading the album’s credits or drooling over its’ artwork.
It’s that passion that utilizes his natural engineering talents in the re-imaging of surround sound mixes of 1960’s – 1980’s classic albums by the likes of Yes, Gentle Giant, Tears for Fears, XTC, Caravan, but leading the path with hot sales of classic Jethro Tull albums from the period of 1970’s Benefit to 1975’s Minstrel in The Gallery and most notably the entire first 8 King Crimson studio albums from the debut In the Court of the Crimson King to 1981’s new wave inspired Discipline in dolby, dts, 5.1, and MLP (Meridian Lossless Packaging) new stereo mix formats.
Rather than try to cram a whole weighty two thousand ton biography of Steven Wilson into some under 2,000 word blog, I’ve written about other Steven Wilson live project experiences in the past through two concert reviews downloaded by a website run by Dutch fans of Progressive rock called Dprp.net for Porcupine Tree and one for Blackfield– so you can draw your own conclusions.
Once again, Steven is making his usual Saturday night trek (he always schedules his Los Angeles area shows on a Saturday – for as long as I’ve been attending his shows) in lieu of his 4th solo album release, HAND.CANNOT.ERASE. released last March in the states on the K-Scope Music label – A label I mentioned in my NAO/Engineers blog a couple of months ago that was created by Steven Wilson to showcase other music acts of his ilk with other bands such as Anathema, Gazpacho, The Pineapple Thief, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Russian duo iamthemorning, and new signings that include from all the way out in Columbus, Ohio, THE RECIEVER. The tour boasts to be as equal as if not greater than the last 2013 tour for the Raven That Refused to Sing tour (of where I will be sporting my latest glow in the dark t-shirt at this Saturday’s sonic soiree) both visually and music wise.
According to Wikipedia, Reception to HAND.CANNOT.ERASE. has been stellar. For the first time in the US – Steven has cracked the Top Billboard 200 charts, entering at 39.
“Hand. Cannot. Erase. has received acclaim from critics. Metacritic, a review aggregator, has given the album a normalized rating of 89 out of 100, indicating critical acclaim, based on reviews from 7 critics. The Guardian rated the album five stars and called it “a smart, soulful and immersive work of art”.Eclipsed magazine described the album as “one more shining jewel in the discography of Steven Wilson. Modern, disturbing, brilliant!” Metal Hammer awarded Hand. Cannot. Erase. 6/7 and described it as “another masterpiece”. U.S. website FDRMX rated the album 4.8/5 and stated “Hand. Cannot. Erase. grabs your full attention from the beginning to the very final note, and that’s the sign of a great album”.
All About Jazz awarded Hand. Cannot. Erase. 5 stars and said “As someone capable of delivering accessible music that is, at the same time, compositionally and lyrically deep—detailed and, at times, unapologetically complex—Wilson makes absolutely no compromises in doing what he does”. Another 5 star review appeared in the March 2015 edition of Record Collector, who praised the album’s “Spellbinding poignancy and aching beauty”.
For those reading in the U.K., once again Steven has recently sold out the Royal Albert Hall for a couple of shows in September for the second time in a row.
Not bad for a little London kid who self-taught himself to be a musician from the age of six.
Be with me next time when I start preparing for the next annual Comic Con International and for some reminiscing of Deposit Man comic books past including a preview of the new one.
As a special bonus treat – I’ve literally unearthed in my yahoo! archives some notes of an unseen draft of a concert review I wrote concerning Porcupine Tree’s 2007 Fear of A Blank Planet tour in Hollywood that I once attended with singer/songwriter and Walt Disney Pictures vocalist Julie Minasian. I probably didn’t submit it because I was proving to be too biased of Steven’s work and opted to submit one of an All Four Original Members of Asia show instead.
Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet Tour 2007