27 December 2015

Steven Wilson - Hand.Cannot.Erase.


This is one of the albums which slipped through the net for me in 2015, I was really hoping to get it reviewed by the deadline for the albums to be considered for our recent poll.  But along with another six or seven releases, I just ran out of time (this is only a blog I do in my spare time, I get no cash for these blog and it is all just for the joy of listening to music).  But enough about our background stuff and more about this work by Steven Wilson, principal writer of Porcupine Tree, Producer and an all-round good egg who has slowly but surely been getting praise and a bigger fan base as the years have gone by.  This is the fourth solo outing, it was released in February 2015 and as wellbeing a hit with the critics around the planet, this album made the top twenty in the UK as well as making it to the upper levels of the charts around the world.  Since writing this I have been told that it was influenced by the story of  Joyce Carol Vincent, a lady who was found in dead in her flat after being dead for three years.  Reading up on it is a heartbreaking influence on this record, it is something that was the bases on the film 'Dreams of a Life' which I will be looking for very shortly.  The cover is an interesting piece of work, a ladies face with paint splatted across the image and you are drawn to both parts of the image; will the music meet it?

Starting the album is "First Regret" which fades in with the sound of the wind, rain and an almost industrial pulse to the beginning.  Then it reaches a point and the piano starts as the guitars and other noises slowly pulse along with it.  It is just over two minutes long and it flows straight into "3 Years Older" with such ease that it is the same song for all intent and purposes.  But together it gives chills that run into an introduction that sounds as fresh as coffee ground that day, with a hint of vintage sounds like The Who, Pink Floyd, early Genesis and a small dose of ELP as well.  It is a classic rock/prog anthem in the making is "3 Years Older" as it stands at just over ten minutes in length and it passes by with such speed that you hardly notice the time has passed.  It goes through some fantastic passages as the organ/guitars go from light as a breeze to heavy as thunder from the gods; all the time the band as performing out of their skin and it makes the hairs on my neck stand on end.  It showcases all that is good with progressive music, all the beautiful moments that have notes and every twist, turn, dip and height just feels as if it has been crafted, loved and polished for an age before it was released into the world.  Following on is the title track of the album "Hand Cannot Erase", a tale about not being able to remove the past and the people we have once loved.  It is a shorter number, coming in just over four minutes and with its high tempo pace it is a song which could have lent itself to being a single for the album.  The dynamic between the chorus and verse sections is obviously not as distinctive as on "3 Years Older", but it does have a great riff that holds the song and the string section used as a bridge after the chorus section is beautiful.  A great song that you wish was extended, but is probably just about the right length. 

"Perfect Life" starts off with sombre synth sounds, swirling like fog around you to create a strong atmosphere.  With a spoken word performance from Katherine Jenkins about being introduced to a girl who is akin to a sister for the protagonist's life, it discusses the introduction till there is a breaking of the ways and then the face fades to memory, until it becomes dust and ash.  After the spoken word, Steven Wilson comes in with a looping ending with the words - we have got the perfect life - being looped around the audience.  It is obviously a song with patient melancholy attached to it, the pattern reminds me of "Collapse The Light into World", which is one of my favourite songs from Mr Wilson's day job; it is a good song but it is merely wetting the appetite for the listeners at this point.  Next is "Routine" which deals with a mother who has lost her family (on the video she has lost them in a shooting at their school), this song features the vocals of Israeli artist Ninet Tayeb who performs the vocals of the mother and Leo Blair as well.  It is a long track, a hard track and a beautiful song that pulls on the heart strings, making the eyes well up with tears and the mind looks for some sort of redemption in the narrative.  It is a situation that would be hard for anyone, the video that was made for it is even harder to watch and with make the hardest heart weep; but the music is truly stunning on this number and conveys the whirlpool of emotions incredibly well throughout the story and it all comes together in one of the best songs of this man's career.  Following on from this pinnacle is the song "Home Invasion" which deals about how we let all the negative and dangerous parts of the internet into our lives and houses, supplying us with false dreams, dangerous hope and unsafe desires.  The pace is quickened on this song as it moves with a faster tempo and has an aggressive edge.  This is not the first time that Mr Wilson has touched on the subject (see the Porcupine Tree album called 'Fear of a Blank Planet' for further songs about this topic).  It is a song with a deep grove that gives the audience an emotional rest bite, but without having to stop the quality of the record.  The quality solo towards the end flows straight into "Regret #9" which is an instrumental track; with this song you are able to submerge yourself in the sound without distraction or another focus on the quality lyrics which come from the mind of Mr Wilson.  I love this song, it is as good an instrumental as I have heard all year and it never dips in quality.  It will have the faithful in raptor and I am sure that it will bring many new fans to the cause as well.

"Transience" is the next song, it is a track which deals with the emotions and events in childhood that form the anchor of fear and entrapment that can affect a person in adulthood; it is about not being able to escape those links and how they can forge themselves into your psyche.  It is a very short number for this album, it also feels like an intro or bridge to another number and therefore does not have the same impact that other songs on the album offer to the listener.  After this is "Ancestral" which is the longest song on the album at over thirteen minutes in length, it does take its time to reveal its magic as it is not immediate upon the first few listens.  In fact, it does not really sink in at all, but that is not a bad thing.  Let me explain, the reason it has not fully sunk in is that it is still revealing more after many listens; even today after the twenty + listen to the song, I am still noticing more about the song that I had not heard before.  It is still growing and has not reached a plateau yet and until till it does I cannot view make up my mind on it - I know I like it, but do I love or adore it as well?  Maybe in a few years I might be able to tell you, not today though......  What I can tell you is that it is a number which is well played and the sound is great; but it is still not fully focused in my mind.  The penultimate song on the album is called "Happy Returns" which is one of those moments where life is mirrored with art; the lyrics deal with a family member who is not always there due to their personal demons and they are reaching out to reconnect in one of those brief moments that everything is together.  It is hard to hear sometimes as a lot of us in the world will have family and friends who fit that category and you are not always able to help them.  It is another emotional moment on this album that builds up towards a chilling end that does not show if the broken family/friend link was able to be repaired.  It is powerful and hits home very hard, it is also beautifully performed and makes the hairs on your neck stand on end - another gem in this sea of treasure.  Ending the album is "Ascendant Here On..." which really did not need to be separated from "Happy Returns" as it is just a gentle piano outro with a choir sound in the background that was hinted at upon the end of the last track.  It is nice, but ultimately it did not need to be billed as a separate song. 

This is a great album which sadly has slipped through the next for us, it is one of the best prog album of 2015 and I do feel a sense of guilt that it was not in our recent poll of the year for record of the year.  But better late than never in some ways; what we have is an emotional journey that will stab the heart and give it some beautiful musical moments as compensation.  A few of the shorter interludes were not required, they could have honestly been merged with tracks that followed and it would not have made any difference to the end outcome of the record.  It is also one which is still revealing more about itself even ten months on and I am sure it will continue to do so in the years to come.  Steven Wilson is about to tour in 2015, hopefully I will be able to see his show on this tour and a new album will be forthcoming.  I would really recommend you purchasing this, a true game changer.

9 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost....
Top track - Routine

You can purchase Hand.Cannot.Erase. on Amazon here

You can go to the Kscope Records website here which has a webstore as well - there are many versions of the album which you can purchase there

You can visit the Steven Wilson website here, this too has a link to a webstore and will update you on all the new concerning his work

You can also follow his activities on Facebook here

Now this album (and none of his other solo work) is not currently on any streaming sites - so you will have to purchase the album to hear it; there is no judgement in this statement, just stating the fact.

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