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Steven Wilson - Hand. Cannot. Erase. CD (album) cover

HAND. CANNOT. ERASE.

Steven Wilson

 

Crossover Prog

4.30 | 1405 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars While being a reverent but discreet fan of Steve Wilson ever since seeing a PTree concert showcasing "Fear of Blank Planet", I was extremely predisposed to be unusually harsh with my expectations, finding enjoyment but not adulation with his preceding solo albums (though "The Raven?" did provide many hot chills), while "The Incident" did leave me somewhat puzzled, like many other proggers here and beyond, as it undoubtedly signaled some kind of temporary or perhaps permanent finality, in regards to PTree's future. I read some of the initial reviews and noticed the high ratings, as well as the gorgeous artwork, followed all the gab in the lounges, where there was talk of a surging masterpiece. I must grudgingly admit that, once again I have been proven wrong and deserve a guilty sentence. This latest offering has a very designed mood that permeates all the tracks, from beginning to end taking the rabid fan or the critical dissenter to a new level completely, forging some new kind of modern prog, laden with old , new and futuristic schools and methods that will cause some serious consternation in music land. Firstly, this is head music that just cavitates and captivates, spanning the entire rainbow of contrasts, from ultra-soft to 'ka-bang' heavy, encapsulated even within one song, the colossal "Ancestral". Not only are the returning instrumentalists deliriously proficient but they choose to explode into some distant sonic set that defies gravity, speed and light. The phenomenal Nick Beggs needs no more introduction, guitarist Guthrie Govan has a level of creativity that goes somewhere where no one has gone, yet. Keyboardist Adam Holzman is a timid type, doing magical things discreetly, so in my mind, he is a 'compadre' of Richard Barbieri, mood manipulators par excellence, a savory mix of Eno and Wakeman (he was a Miles Davis and Mahavishnu Project member in the past) . Marco Minnerman is a beast, we all have heard the applause and we are aware of the fame.

My first and ongoing impression was coherently focused on how this album was divided into mini-blocks, autonomous musical regions firmly entrenched within an overall confederation. There are also some linking messaging between pieces, common denominators blatantly exposed in the lyrics on "3 Years Older" and "Perfect Life". The mixture of past PTree glories and current mercies. Clever and brainy, Mr Wilson.

Showcasing a layering of styles that work well together, "3 Years Older" is a bass heavy ramble that combines all the talents mentioned above, Guthrie Govan in particular shining brightly on his electric guitar, flirting with countrified tones, 'I will love you more than I will ever show 'being a fine example of Wilson's simple yet exciting lyrics and an explosive instrumental part that, just as suddenly, veers into 'pianofied' jazz. The piece then evolves into a cameo spotlight for each soloist, starting off with Holzman's rushing organ, pursued closely by a spiraling missile lead guitar from Govan and even Beggs doing his Chris Squire thingy, better than recent Chris Squire! A slight wink to his previous PT classic track "She Moved On", off Lightbulb Sun can and should make one smile.

Another tasty block of songs that wink at more Blackfieldian horizons, yet with more dreaminess perhaps, is launched by the lovely ear candy title track, the more melancholic "Perfect Life" and its tendency towards foolish entitlement and sarcastic disbelief. Wilson's ongoing fascination for apathy is not hard to understand as it has rapidly and insidiously infected our world, rather completely. Apathy towards society, politics, even the arts, human interaction being now ruled by some stupid i-phone, banks screwing up deposits and withdrawals, lack of any customer service anywhere, people in England applauding suicide victims to jump. Apathy towards human interaction , being now ruled by some stupid i-phone, banks screwing up deposits and withdrawals, lack of any customer service anywhere, people in England applauding suicide victims to jump. Yeah, bad! Happens to fit nicely with the more developed 9 minute long case in point "Routine", another masterful track dripping with ennui, a spotlight on Guthrie Govan again, his slithering axe quivering like a frazzled leaf in agony. Someone mentioned Mark Knopfler-like , interesting !

The most overtly perfect tracks are actually within another group of tunes piled up together, leading the charge with the edgier and spectacular "Home Invasion", a thoroughly trembling slice of fizzy prog, and featuring a lively electric piano rant that will shock anyone listening, some brash and rash guitar frills embracing the insane drum fills. The first moments offer up a groove that sleeps between sheets of abyss and cloud, brooding and confusing, like fear itself. Creepy synths crawl into the delirious maelstrom, a feverish steamrolling beat that is just plain thrilling, as Steve sings convincingly; this is modern prog at its finest, adventurous, sonically illuminating and profoundly exhilarating. A slick slide guitar scours the scene of the crime, bleeding directly into the tectonic "Regret #9", an extended synthesizer blowout that sends shivers down the spine, recalling the spirit of PT track "Sentimental", well-muscled by some dynamic drum patterns and a gritty imagery that has melancholia in abundance. For those who enjoy electric guitar soloing, you will not be disappointed with this scorching Govan spotlight (wow!). There is also a nice Rush-like dynamic in the rhythmic assault, though this piece has a special feel that defies categorization.

The suave "Transience" serves as a gentle intermezzo between two cannonading sections, a pastoral and spacy ballade that reminds us of structure, contrast and expectations being appeased. Voice, acoustic guitar rule the waves, a solemn bass synth rumble painting the sky and serenity galore. 'It's only the start?..' he trills .

Now "Ancestral" may very well qualify as one of Steve's finest compositions, easily up there with "Anesthetize", for example. An outwardly explosive soundtrack of intensity and expression, erected within simple but effective sonic architecture, evolving from a serene onset and slowly morphing into a gigantic vortex of sounds. I sent this to a lovely lady friend who was not familiar with prog and she replied the following" I don't think I have ever listened to music like that and to have had so much emotion evoked inside me". Emotions, feelings, pulse and heartbeat. A raindrop beat pushing electric piano, jagged guitar slivers, a heavily echoed SW voice, flute in fluttering tow, the atmosphere is intoxicating, surreal and emphatic. Lush symphonics take this to a higher plane, rushed along by a celestial chorus, and a Govan slither job on the fretboard. This is so amazing, it verges on the laughable (when something musically is beyond my capacity to comprehend, I giggle nervously). Mid way through, the mood becomes tempestuous with clinical weaving that would shake Robert Fripp's stool, a whistling Holzman synth leading into a veritable mellotron deluge. Beggs begs to differ (pun) as he adds a colossal riff to the proceedings that has Red era KC (as well as an overt ELP wink) stamped all over it. Minnerman slams fast, hard and with purpose, making this a classic 21st century epic of seismic proportions.

Finish off with"Happy returns" the most accessible piece, a very enchanting, typically English mood piece, that I can admire but not go gaga over, this is the one piece that I find needless. Perhaps due to the preceding splendor, I just rate it somewhat skin-deep only. Finally, a brief moody outro, almost ambient, definitely relaxed "Ascendant Here On" will prove a perfect au revoir.

Some will like, some will hate but no one will deny the talent at play here. His best yet, I feel is still to come.

4.5 ears cannot erase

tszirmay | 4/5 |

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