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Steven Wilson - Grace for Drowning CD (album) cover

GRACE FOR DROWNING

Steven Wilson

 

Crossover Prog

4.20 | 1166 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

infandous
4 stars 4.5 stars, really!

I hated Insurgentes. The repetition, the white noise, the boring progressions repeated over and over and over and over again (I know, that's the same as repetition, but I'm trying to drive the point home here), the guitar solos that sounded like a kid still learning how to play guitar with cheap equipment. As much as I love Porcupine Tree and really wanted to like that album, no amount of plays has been able to change my view of it. So I was understandably skeptical about this album. The more I read about it, however, the more intrigued I became. I also have to admit that I was very curious to hear what a 23 minute piece of Wilson's would sound like. But I didn't go into this with high expectations, since the last couple Porcupine Tree albums were not that great (though I still much prefer The Incident to Fear Of A Blank Planet) and for my reaction to the previous solo album.

I was frankly blown away by this current solo release, though it took a good three listens to feel that. The Lizard/Islands vibe is quite strong (King Crimson early albums, in case you don't know......if you don't then you should :-) No doubt his recent re-mastering work on those albums has something to do with this. I think Theo Travis,though, has a lot to do with this as well, with his sax and flute all over this album (clarinet as well). He is really the star of this album, so if you are looking for guitar solos, you won't really find them here. With the exception of the very good one on the last track, of course.

For the most part, we do get some things we normally expect from Wilson; low key vocals, dismal lyrics, a couple songs that could have easily fit on a Porcupine Tree album. Specifically Deform To Form A Star, Postcard, Index and Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye. These are all beautiful songs, even if they are really nothing new, though the last in that list has some interesting ambiance in the last half that some people apparently don't appreciate, but I think is wonderful and a great way to end the album. The shorter, more atmospheric pieces like the title track and Raider Prelude are, I think, perfect linking pieces even if at first they seem inconsequential.

The main thing that I love about this album is the dynamics. The incredibly soft and quiet sections that are suddenly shattered by a loud blasting section. This is not annoying, this is how albums used to be made by prog bands, especially Crimson. The whole vibe of this album is very retro, while not actually sounding like a "typical" retro prog album. This is probably because Wilson does not use Yes, Genesis, or ELP as touchstones, but King Crimson and, to a lesser extent Van der Graaf Generator (as well as some more avant acts). Still though, songs like Index and Postcard have a very modern sound.

The best thing about this album for me though, is Raider II. A magnificent track that seems like an homage to early King Crimson, without every seeming like it's trying to copy them. I guess because this is not normal in modern prog to hear, it just seems wonderful to me. The disjointedness of it is, I think, entirely intentional and serves the piece quite well. From the heavy fuzz bass to the manic flute, this is just a work of pure genius. Remainder the Black Dog is sort of a mini version of this, with a more streamlined structure and less dynamics, leaning more towards the heavy end. But heavy on this album should again be taken as 70's Crimson heavy, and not the heavy of recent Porcupine Tree albums (that border on metal at times). I could go into great detail on every track really, but suffice to say they all have something to impart to the listener and they all touch on nostalgia without ever wallowing in it.

The performances are stellar, with the drummer really impressing me. I understand he is a jazz guy and I give him credit for mixing such a 70's aesthetic with more modern styles, all on one album. At times the resemblance to the great Mike Giles is uncanny.

The production on this album is so warm and analog sounding, yet still maintains the highest quality Wilson is known for. A brilliant mix of old and new techniques. I can't say enough good things about the sounds on this album and how they are presented.

If I had to make one complaint, it would be that Wilson's vocals seem even more mellow and subdued than usual. He has been improving them with each release over the years, and it's a little odd that on such a magnificent album he would choose to understate them so much (a solo album, no less). This, however, is a minor complaint at most, and in many places the vocal approach is perfect for the material.

This is easily, in my view, Wilson's finest work to date. I won't give an album this new 5 stars, as I just don't think that can be justified for such a new album. In a few years, if it still connects with me like it does now, after more than a dozen listens, then I'll round up to 5. For now, I'll round down to 4, but I think this is an essential modern prog album and the best thing Wilson has ever done.

infandous | 4/5 |

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