It’s been a while, true, but the thing is, I’m in more of an “input” than “output” musical phase, I’ve been discovering all sorts of new sounds and vibes and I’m trying to sort through all of them. Until I get my bearings again, I’ll probably be updating more scarcely, but that doesn’t meant ZaRecords is dead. Far from it, especially when I am graced with albums such as the one I’m writing about today. I’ve probably already made this abundantly clear in previous posts, but I am a prog-rock nut, so when Steven Wilson puts out a new album, I listen. But this time, more than ever before, I am left electrified and stunned by Steven Wilson’s vision.
First, a bit of trivia about the man himself – Steven Wilson is the founder of Porcupine Tree, one of the most well-known and rightfully appreciated outfits in music, at least for anyone who has any interest in progressive rock. He’s also behind Blackfield, arguably a more radio-friendly band, less prone to confuse DJs as to the actual genre they’re listening to. Also, he’s a tremendous producer, famous, amongst many other things, for having worked with Opeth on two of their very best albums, as well as undertaking the titanic task of remastering the entire King Crimson discography (and he did it formidably well, it’s as if he switched brains with Robert Fripp or something…). “The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)” is his third solo album, and it seems that Steven Wilson has become some sort of avatar of progressive rock, with the consciousness of monsters such as King Crimson, Genesis and Yes flowing, molten, through his veins.
I have never before heard music which shares such kinship with the defining sound of the early seventies, without feeling merely tributary. From the very first play of the record (and there have probably been over a hundred plays since), I felt as if I had discovered an album made right alongside “Selling England By The Pound” and “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic”. My bones grew to the sound of these albums, twenty years after their release, true, but so it happened nonetheless. I define my musical preferences, one way or the other, through the prog-rock prism. This music represents so much of my identity, and I’ve been so used to confining it to that narrow time-span between the late sixties and late seventies, that “The Raven That Refused To Sing” simply caught me unprepared. Sure, Steven Wilson is well known for integrating prog-rock influences in his music, much more than most, but it’s always felt like a welcome addition, a warm handshake, a knowing nod. What he accomplishes here is, unbelievably, heartbreakingly, perfectly the genuine article.
The music is remarkably textured – the unexpected, entrancing flue, the unmistakeable, cascading sound of the mellotron, the fluid, overwhelming eloquence of the guitar, with tones molded to that elusive edge between smoothness and ferocity, the jagged groove of the bass on some of these songs, expertly counterbalanced by the often forlorn, painfully hollow mood lurking just beneath… this is a musical version of Francis Bacon’s paintings – an unsettling blend of childlike simplicity somehow privy to unfathomable, terrifying depth. I’m sure the record benefited greatly from having Alan Parsons as a producer, however, Steven Wilson’s songwriting genius seems to have reached a level of clarity like never before, capturing that distinctive layering of harmony and structure, that perfect balance of influences and styles which only progressive rock can meld into this glistening, brittle, priceless alloy.
The skin hears this just as much as the ears, and I’m going to have real trouble selecting just two tracks to illustrate this point. As will all prog-rock, this album benefits greatly from a patient, attentive listener, and I feel it can only unfurl its arabesque wings when listened to in full. Of course, I am acutely aware of my considerable bias – I feel like I’ve grown my ears to listen to this kind of music, pure and simple – but I hope I’ve been persuasive enough, for now. Enjoy!