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Steven Wilson - Grace for Drowning CD (album) cover

GRACE FOR DROWNING

Steven Wilson

 

Crossover Prog

4.19 | 1128 ratings

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Epignosis
Special Collaborator
Eclectic Prog Team
3 stars "Murder your darlings," wrote Arthur Quiller-Couch. That's the advice I would have given Steven Wilson if he'd asked. Grace for Drowning (an incredibly numinous and evocative title) shows a magnificent deal of promise, and then mostly disintegrates. Transitions make or break progressive rock; it is not enough to have incredible musical passages and merely piece them together with the string of silence, ghastly noise, or an abrupt wave of the hand. For me, the album is inconsistent. I would have edited this double album into one dependable disc- the album would have consisted of "Grace for Drowning," "Sectarian," "Deform to Form a Star," "Postcard," "Belle De Jour," and "Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye (the first five minutes, anyway)," and not necessarily in this order. Not quite a modern studio's album worth of material, but a solid, coherent gathering of music. The rest of the album largely presents itself as a chore to endure for the sake of comprehensive listening; I have had to will myself to plod through the dirt to enjoy the jewels, as it were. The worst culprit comes in past the twenty-minute mark (which I have detailed below). I do wonder if the noise employed in his compositions is merely a crutch ("I'm not sure how to bridge these passages, so here is some thunderous white noise"). Another issue is the guitar tone: Like another multi-instrumentalist, Mike Oldfield, Wilson's electric guitar tone is horrendous. It is tinny and shrill for the lead work and blunted and lumbering for rhythm. This album is on par with The Incident- strokes of genius marred by inconsistency and unfriendly tones all packaged as a double album. There are numerous King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator influences present, so for fans of these two bands or Porcupine Tree, I recommend the album.

"Grace For Drowning" A wordless vocal and piano passage are here- a lovely introduction vaguely reminding me of Kirk McLeod's So Piano.

"Sectarian" This is an exciting piece of music, especially with the choral bursts, even if the transitions are not quite what they could have been. The tone midway through is terrible, although it gives way abruptly to agreeable jazzier fare. The clarinet is wonderful here.

"Deform To Form A Star" Jordan Rudess does a fine job on the piano, and Wilson's vocals are what one should expect from him- enchanting. This is a highlight of the album, and would charm any Porcupine Tree lover. I must remark that the lead guitar tone is grisly and painful over the otherwise beautiful music.

"No Part Of Me" I quite enjoyed the album up to this point. This piece is at best worthy of a Twilight soundtrack. Electronic drums and other sounds compete with Wilson's vocals. The strings do well here, though they cannot mask the poor drizzle of hi-hat. But midway comes the electric guitar, clapping, and awful lead instrumentation- it just doesn't fit at all with what the author was doing earlier. The climax to the song is regrettably worse.

"Postcard" This is a beautiful acoustic song full of piano and guitar and has a lovely string interlude, despite the usually somber lyrics, with gorgeous music toward the end.

"Raider Prelude" A choir piece with piano introduces the next track- decent, but peculiarly shoved in the middle here without context.

"Remainder The Black Dog" Uncomfortable piano enters with Wilson' vocal, which is heavily saturated with effects. That piano riff grows old, and I don't feel the drums and bass work well with it. The singing sounds like it is emitted from a speaker at a racing track. Ultimately, it's just a jam- the same riff runs through it. The electric guitars that come in later are downright nasty. The guitar tones in the second half are more than unpleasant- excoriatingly disappointing.

"Belle De Jour" This forlorn acoustic guitar piece accompanied by strings is beautiful. The nylon guitar is a true highlight.

"Index" This track makes no sense on this album to me. The song is less organic, with lots of electronic sounds. The lyrics depict a pack rat (as this album seems to depict a pack rat of sounds- unable to dispense with things that don't complement the room). The panning almost gives me a headache when I listen through headphones.

"Track One" This has Wilson singing over a simple classical guitar riff. With the gradual build of noise, the music becomes unfortunately noisy and irritating. Though it enters with no relevance to what came before, the electric guitar solo over acoustic guitar is a return to pleasantness. Where this could have been brilliant, the author ruined it with a strident and empty transition.

"Raider II" Here lies the album's most colossal flaw. The bass notes of a piano lead this plodding extended piece. The verse is just unappealing, containing a cringe-inducing vocal and growling. The wild flute and saxophone don't redeem it, and the parts are conjoined in a strange way. It gets jazzier, especially with the piano flourishes- had Steven Wilson set out to create Lizard, this may have been the outcome. The electronic beats and depressing, sarcastic lyrics seem like Steven Wilson is making a mockery of himself. The open note shredding seems a tad amateurish and doesn't progress anywhere really- it's just something to do during "the metal portion of our show" just before we awkwardly transition to "the jazz portion of our show." The second half begins with some disgusting noise- a guitar's fart perhaps- leading into minimalistic psychedelic tinkering. The springy bass during the end is quite all right and works well during the climactic part. That said, the song just has precious little flow and doesn't do anything particularly different than the rest of the album demonstrated (for better or for worse). But just when the epic of the album seems to have come to a natural conclusion, there is a bass postlude and some indiscriminate jazzy electric guitar notes.

"Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye" Luckily, the album ends on a positive note. The harmonies are what they should be, and the countrified guitars are stellar over the autoharp, bass and organ. Well done. However, the album concludes with three minutes of unnecessary synthesizer tones that eventually fade out.

Epignosis | 3/5 |

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