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Porcupine Tree - The Sky Moves Sideways CD (album) cover

THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS

Porcupine Tree

 

Heavy Prog

4.08 | 1315 ratings

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TCat
5 stars 'The Sky Moves Sideways' is Porcupine Tree's 3rd official full length studio album, even though Steven Wilson and (later) his band had released several EPs and such during this time. After some success with his past PT albums, Wilson decided it was time to take the band on the road, but to do this, he would have to put together a full-time band. So, he recruited Richard Barbieri, Colin Edwin and Chris Maitland to be part of this band that was originally put together as a joke.

Before working on their next album, they tested the waters by releasing a single of a non-album song called 'Stars Die' with the b-side being 'Moonloop', which was taken from an over 40 minute long improvisation edited down to just over 18 minutes. (In December of 2001, the full 40-minute unedited version 'Moonloop' would be made available on CD and vinyl.) They also releasing a limited vinyl 'Spiral Circus' which was a live album of the first performances of the newly formed band. Right after this, 'The Sky Moves Sideways' was released.

Originally, TSMS was supposed to be a single track, a 50 minute epic work of the title track. This version of that track was never finished, but instead, was broken up into 2 parts that started and ended the album (in the same mode as Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here' album) with shorter tracks separating the two parts. This was to be the first full album to be released in the US. Because of issues with timing on vinyl, there are some major differences on the two original releases of this album.

The CD would have 6 tracks in this order: 'The Sky Moves Sideways (Phase One)', 'Dislocated Day', 'The Moon Touches Your Shoulder', 'Prepare Yourself', 'Moonloop' with a timing of 17:04, and 'The Sky Moves Sideways (Phase Two)'.

The vinyl on the other hand, began and ended the same way as the CD, but the track listing named out sections of both Phase One and Two of the title track. Phase One was tracked as 'The Colour of Air', 'I Find That I'm Not There', 'Wire the Drum', and 'Spiral Circus'. This first phase was followed by 'Stars Die', 'Moonloop' with an further-edited timing of 8:10, 'Dislocated Day', The Moon Touches Your Shoulder', and then Phase Two of the title track broken up into two sections named 'Is'Not' and 'Off the Map'.

It wasn't until November of 2003. after interest in PT really exploded, that this album was released in an expanded 2CD edition, which has the track listing shown here in the Archives. The track sequence on the 1st CD is the same as the original CD except for 'Moonloop' which has been moved to the 2nd CD. Both 'Dislocated Day' and 'The Moon Touches Your Shoulder' have been remixed to include overdubs done by Gavin Harrison, who replaced Maitland. The 2nd CD contains an alternative mix of 'The Sky Moves Sideways', this time in on full track, not divided into two phases. This mix is more of a 'work-in-progress' mix that was recorded when the track was meant to last over 50 minutes, but since that long version was never finished, it is only 35 minutes and has some material that was cut from the original album version. After this is the track 'Stars Die' (left off of the original CD). Moonloop is then divided up into two tracks, 'Moonloop (Improvisation)' which has a duration of over 16 minutes and 'Moonloop (Coda)' which is almost 5 minutes, and which also contains what most people consider the best part of the 'Moonloop' track.

To make things even more confusing, in 2004, a remastered 3 disc vinyl edition was released, which has a slightly different track line-up from the 2CD set. The Alternate version of the title track is divided between sides 5 and 6. There is also a bonus 7' single included which contains two versions of the non-album track 'Men of Wood', one side is a 1994 mix and the other side is a 2000 mix. This song was originally recorded during the original album sessions.

Looking at the structure of the 2 CD track listing, the album opens up, as it should, with the first phase of 'The Sky Moves Sideways', which, whether it is divided up into two phases or complete, is the absolute best long-form, space rock style track the band did in their early years. The lead parts on this track are improvised, but the sections and moods it travels through are all structured, and that keeps the entire thing much more engaging and dynamic. It is absolutely beautiful, being the most similar to the atmospheric sounds of Pink Floyd than anything else they did as a whole. It begins with the lovely layers of keys and guitars, slowly floating along with lush and full textures that will capture you right away. It's not until far into the 4th minute before the vocals begin, and this lushness continues through the verses. When the vocal section ends at nine minutes, the music switches gears and moves faster and heavier, even approaching the heaviness of later albums at times, but then later taking on the Arabic vibe as the rhythm ticks along, then explodes back into life again. This track is much more than just a meandering and aimless improvisation, it has an almost structured feel to it where the background is dynamic and often changing while the guitar, synth , flutes and other instruments are driving the changes, and all the way through there are excellent and memorable riffs that will stay with you long after it is over. At 16 minutes, the music turns more pensive and atmospheric with some lovely acoustic guitar moving along with the shimmering keys and echoing electric guitar.

It wasn't my plan to describe the tracks in so much detail for this review, but I can't help it as I listen to this masterpiece, and the first phase just engages you all the way through. Absolutely beautiful! We now move into the next three, shorter format tracks that divide the two phases of the title track. First there is 'Dislocated Day' which begins with a dial tone and the band suddenly comes in while Wilson sings with a manipulated vocal. This one is a nice heavy and dark track with an exciting extended guitar riff which hits with a solid punch. 'The Moon Touches Your Shoulder' on the other hand, is more of a pensive ballad style with nice acoustic guitar chords surrounded by lush keys and Wilson's airy vocals. Things get more intense in the 2nd half of the track as layers of sound usher in a rousing guitar pattern that suddenly quiets down and leads into 'Prepare Yourself' which is a short instrumental that features the wailing guitar and a soft background. It builds up for the next track.

The first CD ends with Phase 2 of the title track, a continuation of the masterful journey. The build up takes its sweet time this time around as atmospheric synths and effects are influenced by short dramatic drum rolls. A screeching synth brings in a soft guitar to help calm it down. After 4 minutes, the bass starts a thumping beat and then suddenly the band comes to life again with a solid progressive motif that once again will get your blood boiling as it generates excitement and a bit of dread, but things calm as female wordless vocals sing and then an amazing guitar solo brings things up to another level just when you think it couldn't get any better. I'm telling you, Wilson knows how to make a guitar emote. At 8 minutes, the motif returns, things smooth out, and then tension builds and builds as a miasma of sounds whirl around, finally breaking down and resolving after 10 minutes. Shimmering and mysterious effects continue for several minutes before a sudden move into more guitar soloing, improvising off of the original vocal melody from the first phase. At fifteen minutes, the track ends on water effects, a sinister bass against atmospheric wails and sounds. The sky has moved, yet there is the feeling that things are not quite right. This masterpiece just attests to the brilliance of Porcupine Tree, and shows them at their creative best. How could anyone not love this?

The second CD begins with the alternate version of the title track, this time in its entirety at 34 minutes. It is pretty close to the same version as the finished version, but also adds some parts that were taken out of the original. With a track this gorgeous, I don't think anyone will argue with having a different version, and there really is no need to break it down as far as the differences. Just listen. After that, is what was previously the non-album track 'Stars Die' which is one of PT's most sensitive and emotional ballads. It fits in well with the album. The b-side to that single, the edited improvisation 'Moonloop' comes next at over 16 minutes. This long track is much less structured than the title track, so don't expect it to pack the emotional wallop and dynamic that the title track does. It's more like a long space rock jam, with very subtle changes during its long play time, though it is still a great track especially of interest to PT fans that haven't heard it. The interesting thing is that the 'Coda' section of this track is listed as a separate track, and that is for a good reason. For those listeners that want to skip the long meandering improvisational section of the track can easily do so, and move right to the best part, which is the strong and powerful guitar ending. Somehow, though, I feel listening to the entire 'Moonloop' edit makes the ending even more powerful. But you can easily decide how to listen to it, the entire album is still a masterpiece.

This is one of the best ways to experience the earlier works of the band, especially as they are presenting themselves as a full band for the first time in a full album. I highly recommend this album to those that have already had an introduction to the band through either 'In Absentia' or 'Deadwing' as it shows a completely different side of the band at their best. The sound is a lot different from those albums, but when you listen closely, it really isn't that much different, just more exploratory. 'The Sky Moves Sideways' is their best epic work in their early discography and is fully deserving of 5 stars.

TCat | 5/5 |

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