Thursday, November 27, 2008

Steven Wilson ~ Insurgentes

At last this has been released. With all the tantalising snippets and trailers on the web site, the anticipation for this, Wilson’s first solo album has been very high. As the frontman for Porcupine Tree, No-Man and Blackfield this has a lot to live up to. He does seem to have the midas touch, not only with his own material but when working with others like Opeth.

But typically for a man who takes care about his recordings and how they are released this is no simple album. Initially released as a 2CD and DVD set in a limited edition of 3000 all housed in a large, lavishly illustrated hardbound book, this is a thing of beauty. Long time visual collaborator Lasse Hoile supplies the bulk of the photographic material in the book, with layout done by Carl Glover. Wilson is making a point here. Furthering his concerns touched on in the last Porcupine Tree album “Fear of a Blank Planet”, he wants to show that music is not just a downloadable commodity. Wilson is seen smashing IPods to bits in the film which Lasse Hoile is making about the album, fragments of which are shown within the book. Also what is it about Wilson and dolls? With this album Wilson wants to remind us that music is something to cherish and is an art form. Those of us brought up in the 70’s remember that the album artwork and packaging were part of the listening experience and were integral to the overall experience. The importance of Roger Dean and Hipgnosis to Yes and Pink Floyd respectively cannot be over-emphasised. Ok, the packaging is great, but what of the music. I am actually surprised by the cohesiveness of the album. Recorded in many locations over a lengthy period of time I was expecting a more sketchbook feel to the album. But there is a consistent feel to the tracks. This contains some of Wilson’s darkest songs to date. There is a Porcupine Tree feel to some of the pieces, for instance in the opening “Harmony Korine”, but the textures employed don’t really suit the band format, here instead utilising a number of musical colleagues, like Theo Travis, Tony Levin, Jordan Rudess and many others with Gavin Harrison on drums throughout.

On the limited plays I have made of the album, this is superb stuff. I love the use of drones, noise and an almost shoe-gazing feel to the use of the guitars. I think being freed from the constraints of writing within the band format of Porcupine Tree or No-Man has enabled Wilson to stretch out sonically. There is a lot to explore here.

Luckily there will be a retail version, released on K Scope next February. But Wilson has made it clear that this deluxe version is the ultimate “Insurgentes” and to really get an all round picture of Steven Wilson you need the music and the book to fully understand and appreciate this unique musician.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Robert Wyatt ~ Rock Bottom

Simply this is one of my favourite records of all time. For me the first three tracks (the original LP side 1) are perfect. After his fall which left him paralysed, Wyatt recorded this solo album, though the material was written prior to his accident. The music is beautiful, oceanic and dreamlike as no other recording before or since has matched. Full of Wyatts otherworldly voice, bubbling synths, home made percussion and the great, late Ivor Cutler whose participation was inspired. Lyrically it’s personal, anguished, surreal and heartbreaking. The production by Floyd’s Nick Mason is so subtle and empathic as is the playing by everyone else, including Mike Oldfield, Richard Sinclair and Hugh Hopper. The highlight will always be “Sea Song”. This is sublime, fluid, emotive songwriting at its very best.

This re-issue is part of Domino’s complete release of Wyatt’s back catalogue. I believe it hasn’t been remastered, but does re-instate the original pencil drawing by Wyatt’s wife Alfreda Benge who also did the colour painting for the 1998 re-issue. The packaging is very nice. These are digipack releases with booklet including full credits and lyrics. Domino do very good re-issues and this doesn’t disappoint.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November's Listening ~ 18th November

Here is some current listening things

Trettioarga Kriget ~ War Years
This is a 2CD live set containing performances from the early years of the band through to their recent reformed performances. It’s all glorious stuff. This is the genesis of Landberk, Anekdoten and Anglagard. I managed to get the free limited edition CDR (only 100 copies) which came with the set containing more live stuff! One of Swedens finest bands.

Unitopia ~ The Garden
A double CD album from this Australian outfit, released on the Inside Out label. This is very good symphonic prog, almost poppy in places. The vocals by Mark Trueack are exceptionally good. A sort of Antipodean Peter Gabriel! The end section of the title track made me smile sounding more than a bit like the end of Genesis’s “Suppers Ready”, even including lyrical references (“To be back home”). Great sleeve by Ed Unitsky

Lana Lane ~ Best Of Lana Lane 2000-2008
2 CD compilation of some of Lana Lanes best stuff from recent years. Includes some remixes and one new track, all remastered. As always excellent stuff. Great booklet. Only available in Japan though can be bought from Think Tank Media at

The Skids ~ The Absolute Game
Great to see this re-released again. Messrs Jobson and Adamson’s finest moment. A masterpiece of an album from the heady days of post punk. This issue includes 4 bonus tracks and the complete “Strength Thru Joy” album which came with the original vinyl release. Stuart Adamson was a fine musician and he is sadly missed.

Manning ~ Ten

Shockingly Guy Manning isn't releasing an album this year. We have to wait till February next year for his next opus. What a slacker! It will be worth the wait I am sure as his last album "Songs from the Bilston House" was my favourite of last year. Here are the details as posted on his forum.

The Audio MASTER and Artwork MASTER discs are now with FESTIVAL MUSIC(F2).

The releases schedule is FEBRUARY 2009.

Catalogue No: F2200902


Guy (Manning) - Vocals, Keyboards, Acoustic 6, 12 & ClassicalGuitars, Electric Guitar, Bass, Mandolins, Bouzouki, Percussion

Dave (Million) - Electric Guitars
Phil (Wilkes) - Keyboards
Kris (Hudson-Lee) - Bass
Julie (King) - Vocals (including the duet on VALENTINE'S NIGHT)
Kev (Currie) - Bkg. Vocals
Danny (Rhodes) - Additional Drums

SPECIAL GUESTS:Andy (Tillison) - Drums, Keyboards *
Laura (Fowles) - Alto Sax, Vocals
Ian ('Walter' Fairbairn) - Fiddle
Steve (Dundon) - Flute, Tenor Sax +
Pav (Chana) - Percussion
Ed (Neidhardt) - Soprano Sax, Bass Clarinet
Hannah (Hudson-Lee) - Bkg. Vocals

* Courtesy of The TANGENT and PO90
+ Courtesy of MOLLY BLOOM

All songs written and assembled by Guy Manning
Except the 'Tangible Expression' section of THE HOUSE ON THE HILL{Manning/Tillison}

Produced by Andy Tillison & Guy Manning - BURNSIDE STUDIOS 2008
Artwork by Guy Manning & Phil Wilkes


Friday, November 14, 2008

Genesis Box Set 1970 - 1975 Released

At last this set has been released. It must be around 4 years or so since the first surround mixes of the Genesis catalogue were being talked about. The first to be re-mixed was actually “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”, which Peter Gabriel didn’t think was radical enough. Hence the start of delay after delay after delay. But here is the third box set and although it represents the bands least commercially successful period in terms of record sales it is for many their creative peak. In saying that it appears from pre-order sales this box set is outselling the other two box sets added together.

I haven’t heard the surround mixes or watched the DVD material yet, but as regards the stereo mixes and the mastering the results are nothing short of astonishing. There were some criticisms over the sound of the first box set, which I can sort of understand. It did sound a bit harsh and not the sonic wonder which it should have been. No problems here, which is a bit strange as the recordings are much older and it’s the same team who were involved in the mixing and remastering. So I am not sure why these sound so much better. I will actually go as far to say these remasters are a revelation. The new mixes have subtly yet profoundly brought out nuances in the recordings I have never heard before. The details that can be heard are breathtaking, especially in Gabriel’s voice which sounds much earthier and extremely present.

I am pleased to see that all the original artwork has been re-instated in the booklets. The Definitive Editions were highly lacking in that regard. So you now have Paul Whiteheads painting from the inner gatefold of Foxtrot and the full George Hardie graphics for “The Lamb”. In fact “The Lamb” is presented in a very nice hardback book which houses the 2 CD’s and DVD inside inner sleeves.
This is a truly excellent box set. They have got it right at last. The very favourable reviews I have read so far seem to support this. For me some of the best remastering I have heard in many years can be heard on these discs. A triumph!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Roger Dean ~ Dragons Dream

One of my most treasured possessions while growing up in the mid-70’s was the book “Views” by Roger Dean. An LP sized book packed with Deans fantastical paintings. Leafing through the pages and pages of alien landscapes and visions this was the ideal way for a young boy to immerse himself into alternative worlds. These were the days well before computer games of course! In fact I still have that original copy, even though at over 30 years old it has seen better days!

Of course Dean’s work was well known to many for his elaborate album and logo designs for Yes, who he also designed stage sets for. Such was his importance to the visual experience of Yes and how that reflected and enhanced the music, he effectively was another member of the band. Now after all these years the third volume of his works (the second was “Magnetic Storm”) has just been published. I believe “Views” is being re-published next year.

For a generation like myself Roger Dean defined the beginnings of multimedia experience and why vinyl LP’s were objects to be cherished!
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