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3 stars Blackfield, as known, is one of Steven Wilson's altern project bands. This band is the blatant attempt to get away with progressive ideas immersed in the mainstream language of Pop. No , not the No-Man kind, the open-mainstream radio kind. The last album was an open statement of this band's influences, close and far, openly established, that was the route. In Blackfield IV, the route is mostly the same, if not exactly, due to some subdued Porcupine Tree splashes here and there. To me, Blackfield is SW project semblance of a USA prog-pop band. As such it is a challenge, but in record, the language itself, does not allow much, and that is precisely the challenge and problem. Most of the best moments (progressively speaking), are or have to be overshadowed, due to the reasonable limits of the language attempted. I repeat, that is the proposing intention. NOW , as far as composition goes, well those limits in language, are not or should not be, a limiting excuse, and this record lacks that, a self-proposing own language, and that we get not. So there are references from The Byrds, 80's Pop, The Beach Boys, PT and brushes with the corny side of USA prog-pop bands. To be honest, the only reason, I think this band appears in PA, is because it has to do with Steven Wilson... So, well produced and performed, has some great moments (the first song), but essential it is not. ***3 Stars.
Report this review (#1023280)
Posted Sunday, August 25, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars This album isn't even remotely close to anything prog, and I suspect that the association with Steven Wilson is the only reason we see it attached to this site. Wilson's break with Avi is apparent in the writing, musicianship and vocals on this disc. It's unfortunate that Steven Wilson has any relationship to this very average album, especially after his spectacular release of "The Raven That Refused To Sing". Blackfield IV is most assuredly contemporary radio, and nothing more. As a prog album, it doesn't even rate any stars. As a piece of background fluff for the next cocktail party, I guess it gets a 2.8/5
Report this review (#1024939)
Posted Wednesday, August 28, 2013 | Review Permalink
2 stars Blackfield IV arrives just two and a half years since the release of Welcome to My D.N.A., Blackfield's 3rd LP after a four year break and the album that marked the last true involvement of Steven Wilson as a fully-fledged member of the alternative pop (and prog-related by blood only) band. And it is sad reflection on this record that, whilst the two studio albums by Blackfield's former anchor man in the intervening period were released barely 18 months apart, both sold well and met widespread critical acclaim without feeling remotely rushed or devoid of new ideas or enthusiasm. Aviv Geffen, now the sole flag-bearer of the Blackfield name, had an extra 12 months to work on this new record and the results, if anything, seem more rushed and incomplete than anything that has come before. There is no doubting that Blackfield's strengths as a group were in the shared passion and enthusiasm of both Wilson and Geffen in what they were doing: crafting short, sharp and lush pop rock with an alternative twist and the odd progressive flourish. The contrast of these two musicians and writers in style and attitude worked to Blackfield's advantage and produced 2 very good albums (Blackfield I and Blackfield II), full of melancholy and melody, post-glam angst and optimism, soulful emotions and thinly-concealed cynicism. Blackfield could crank-out the heartfelt harmonies and then follow them immediately with spiky guitars and coarse defiance without breaking a sweat and could still maintain a consistent and recognisable tone throughout. Welcome to My D.N.A. was the first indicator that Wilson's focus was increasingly elsewhere, as was inevitably going to be the case for a man with surely more side-projects than any other (Even the far-more popular and well-known Porcupine Tree has had to sit in mothballs while Wilson's solo career goes from strength to strength). Only one song was written by the Englishman on that record, but his vocals were still prominent and the balance of the album was still fresh and featured plenty of well-judged alternative styling in songs such as "Go To Hell", "Zigota" and the excellent "Blood". Blackfield IV, however, offers little of what came before that was to be praised. Instead, Geffen has produced a very safe, cautious record that mines much of the tone and form of the previous albums lighter moments, and gives us very little contrast. "Pills" is the first song on the album, beginning proceedings on a very downbeat, cynical note. Wilson shares the vocal duties with Geffen here, but the song doesn't feel like a true opener and comes across as a pastiche of Blackfield's previous sceptical material. The guitar outro is a slightly offbeat touch, but is too little too late. "Springtime" follows this, and returns to the safe territory of watered-down melancholy, underscored by lush orchestral arrangements: it's a song that makes no apology for what it is and is probably the better for doing so. At two and half minutes long, however, this song lays down the marker for much of what is to follow and is the first instance of a troubling trend on the record. The 3rd track treads previously uncharted territory by boasting a guest vocalist for the first time in Blackfield's short history. Vincent Cavanagh, front man to Anathema (a band which I was previously not very familiar with) sings "X-Rays", an unashamed bowl of sickly pop balladry dripping with familiar strings and essence of late 90's valentine's day chart-toppers. Cavanagh negotiates some odd lyrics to pull off a fine performance and deliver a moving, emotive song that is both immensely soppy, but very hard to dislike at the same time: another clear characteristic of the album and another song clocking in at under 3 minutes. Any semblance of a vague promise, however, is swiftly dispelled by track 4, "Sense of Insanity". Here we have any notion of ambition and forging a new pathway suffocated by a song that was genetically engineered in Matrix-style bio-pods to tick as many Blackfield boxes as possible. No, it's not a bad song per se, but it's a construct of artificial origins. It's song designed to speak to the heart about passion and positivity, but it was forged in a vat of molten music by super-sophisticated computers, trying desperately to capture what it was like to be human and staggered by its failure to accomplish said task. "Firefly", on the other hand, is at least an enigma. Brett Anderson (frontman for Suede and The Tears) takes lead vocal duties, and, as with "X-Ray", it's an almost thankless task. Another lyrically unusual and awkward track struggles to find a sense of identity amidst a pensive and obscure vibe and, unlike "X-Ray", doesn't necessarily showcase the talents of the guest singer. Musically it's at least a little off-centre, but just as it is entering "Dissolving with the Night"-style instrumental territory it, like so much before and after, finishes abruptly, again at less than 3 minutes. Strangely enough, "The Only Fool Is Me", despite its length of less than two minutes, is one of the highlights of the album. Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev sings a gentle lullaby accompanied by harp and strings and, whilst it's over far too soon (as with everything else), it at least serves as a sweet and quirky burst of warmth and sunshine amidst a meandering record and a nice prelude to the album's centrepiece that follows. Track seven, "Jupiter", is everything that was, is and will be Blackfield, wrapped into an immaculately presented sugar coated confection. Steven Wilson delivers his only real prominent, solo vocal and sings of the same regret and melancholy that has served as the backbone to all previous Blackfield albums. The orchestral accompaniment is front and centre, complimenting a simple acoustic arrangement, and only the coldest heart could say they weren't slightly moved by the slickest and fluffiest of pop ballads. It's adorable and heartfelt, but also slightly repulsive and frustrating at the same time. As the standard-bearer for the album, it could have been so much more, and yet it is so persuasive in its integrity and relentlessness that it's impossible to hate. Two-thirds the way through the album, it's here where the ball is well and truly dropped. "Kissed by the Devil" begins abruptly and offers flashes of Radiohead and 90's alternate rock, but loses all momentum in a docile chorus. It has the makings of a decent 4 minute track, but it finds itself presented here as a pile of severed limbs rather than a complete human and it comes as no surprise when the fadeout begins at two-minutes and forty-seconds. At this point, one is inclined to wonder whether we are in on the joke or not. Is this some kind of elaborate test to establish what a listener is prepared so swallow and accept as a bona fide album? Is this an experiment in challenging the true perception of what constitutes an album (it's certainly the shortest album I own, by at least 5 minutes)? One can forgive an inauspicious opening if there is rewarding ending in the offing, but the marked deterioration in quality continues with "Lost Souls". Again, as with previous tracks, it is harmless and not immediately unlikeable or offensive to the ear. But the sixth average song out of nine is just going to come across as average and it's even worse when it sounds to all intents and purposes like a Manic Street Preachers song (even down to the vocals and the borrowed title); and it's a style of song the Welsh band do much better than this. "Faking", by this stage, is now the seventh average song out of ten and is very, very hard to care about in any shape and form. The thumbs are down by this point and a piano power ballad, no matter how reasonable it might be, is just not enough to get you out of the quagmire. The orchestra soars (yes, again), and the key changes to an even more uplifting tone? But it's too late. And then just when all hope is lost comes the closing track "After the Rain". At eighty-six seconds long, it's nowhere near enough to rescue a disappointing record, but, my-god, it's a flicker of what could have been? A throwaway, near-instrumental spin on chill-out drum & bass offers a coolness and pace-change that was sorely lacking previously. Even the orchestrations are understated and compliment the multi-tracked harmonies that echo elements of "Scars" from Blackfield's debut album. Blackfield IV is a sheep in wolf's clothing and a tame offering from a talented artist trying to forge a new path in the shadows of a more prominent brother. Even the album art (more akin to a Bass Communion album) deceives with how it promises something substantial and visceral. Like Radiohead's underwhelming King Of Limbs (at least given life live), there has been enough goodwill earned over the years to forgive one miss amidst many strikes, even for fans that tuned in initially just to sample another Steven Wilson side-project. There are definite signs of life amidst this wreckage and the true test will be whether Aviv Geffen can take the blows, go back to the drawing board and find true inspiration to rise again. Remember, this is a man responsible for songs of real worth and impact such as "Cloudy Now", "End of the World", "Dissolving with the Night", "Blood" and "Zigota" and his ability as a writer and performer can't be dismissed solely on one misfire. Everything that this band was, "they found it all in the Blackfield", and that is where Geffen must return to rediscover his true voice.
Report this review (#1030268)
Posted Saturday, September 7, 2013 | Review Permalink
2 stars High expectations are sometimes unfair. Sometimes, the overwhelming positive sense of what's about to happen turns out to dull the actual moment when it arrives. It's human nature, I guess. Where albums are involved, the expectations get heightened because of the sometimes lengthy time that sits between each album release. Maybe that explanation is a good part of the reason for my less than excellent review of this much anticipated fourth release from Blackfield.

It's been just two and a half years since the most excellent 'Welcome to My DNA' album. This was my number 1 album of 2011. It was a groundbreaking breakthrough for Aviv Geffen; his coming out party. I had somewhat low expectations for that release at the time because I knew beforehand that Steven Wilson was stepping back a bit and letting Aviv step out front. The songs were Aviv's, the vocals were mostly Aviv's, and now, over two years later, it still stands as one of my "go to" albums.

Things started out great when we heard 'Piills' in February of this year, as an advance of this record. It's a song that recalls everything great about Blackfield - melancholy, dark, melodic, brooding, emotional...fantastic. I was excited about what was to come.....

'Jupiter' was released next and, again, all the trademark Blackfield sounds. Terrific orchestration, poignant lyrics and the voice of Steven Wilson up front. Two for two!!!!!

Then the CD arrived. I had ordered the CD with an autographed booklet, which was amazing, as it came with no extra cost involved. Aviv signed the booklet and it was included with a shrink wrapped CD which contained it's own I have two. Nice. I can safe-keep the autograph. Good stuff!

I've listened to the album over 25 times. Unfortunately, my opinion now is the same as it was after five listens. These are not bad song ideas. The problem is just that. They are song ideas. It's as if we all went to meet Aviv in the studio as he was creating the new Blackfield album and he played us all these great song bits. Our reaction would be, "wow these are amazing! Can't wait to hear the finished product!"

Well, this is the finished product and it just leaves us wanting. The songs never really get going and, when they do at times, they end far too quickly. Some of them are so frustrating to listen to, that I skip past them now. It's a painful act, as these could have been great had they been fully realized. I do like the use of additional vocalists as Vincent Cavanagh, Brett Anderson, and Jonathan Donahue shine on their tracks.

'Springtime' follows 'Pills', as track two. Great harmonies and trademark Blackfield sounds are here as well. It's a good second track and one of the more positive Blackfield lyrics ever. The song is over at just over two minutes. However, I let this one pass as it's simple nature fits well with the running time.

Cavanagh's performance on 'X-Ray' is especially amazing. It's a simple song that is made great because of the vocal.

'Sense of Insanity' may be the most mainstream Blackfield has ever been. With the Geffen / Wilson vocals in full force and a singalong bit at the end, this is a song U2 could have brought to #1 on American radio.

'Firefly' is a fantastic idea with Brett Anderson at the mic. The orchestration closing part is quite excellent, but at two minutes and 44 seconds, it's one of the longest songs on the record. The song has no time to breathe...there's no completion of the circle here, if that makes any sense.

Jonathan Donahue takes his turn at the Beatles' inspired 'The Only Fool is Me' and, although the performance is top ends before one can really appreciate it. It's under two minutes! Where's the rest of it? Look, I am not against short pop songs - I am a Beatles fanatic - but these songs are not 'Love Me Do'. They are crafted melancholy songs, with beginnings - middles - and ends. These feel truncated.

Following the aforementioned, and excellent 'Jupiter', Aviv is back out front for possibly the most disappointing piece of the album. 'Kissed By the Devil' has such amazing potential. It's got a retro-sixties vibe and an amazing vocal...and begins to fade out at just over the two minute and 25 second mark. WHA??!! I feel empty when I hear it. I have to skip it because it leaves me completely cold. It's the same feeling I got when I lost hot water in the shower right after I shampooed my hair. You just want to yell at someone to turn the hot water back on. Where's the rest of the song???

The next two tracks are just incomplete ideas that never reach enough momentum. 'Lost Souls' is a repetitive rocker that actually reaches three minutes. 'Faking' has some potential and a nice structure but is missing something. I don't know quite what it is, but it's something that was clearly present on all other Blackfield albums.

The closing track, 'After the Rain' is the most frustrating track that Blackfield has ever recorded. It's BRILLIANT. Yes, brilliant. I can feel the emotion through every second of the track. All 86 seconds of it. What happened to the rest of it?? Had Aviv built this idea into a complete song, I can't imagine how amazing it could have been. But, alas, it was not to be.

And then it's over. 31 minutes. It's possibly the shortest, non-EP that I own. That would be OK, had it been advertised as such. Maybe released as a bonus disc or special add-on to a future full length record. Then we could appreciate it to what it was meant to be.

These song ideas could only come from the mind of Aviv Geffen. He's a pop maestro, a developing genius and artists like him don't grow on trees. The problem is that the songs are incomplete on Blackfield IV. Aviv has the highest grade ingredients to cook up a masterpiece but the main course needed to marinate more and, as a result, the taste is not as bold as it should be.

Report this review (#1032917)
Posted Wednesday, September 11, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
2 stars Blackfield exists because of a collaborative project between the great Steven Wilson and a mostly unheard of outside of Isreal singer/songwriter Aviv Geffen. It has been hinted through the years that this project was more Aviv's baby than it was Steven's, even though he was a major force in the frist 2 Blackfield albums and sang on most of the songs, produced and mixed the albums and played most of the instruments. Wilson said that he was going to be having less involvement with Blackfield when the 3rd album "Welcome to My DNA" was released and it was quite apparent that was the case. Now, with the forth album, SW has given the reins over to Geffen almost completely and has given very minimal help with this album because he was focusing on his solo projects and was holding up the progress of Blackfield.

The Blackfield albums were more on the light progressive side and were always programmed with relatively short songs, trying to reach a wide audience. SW's presence was definitely felt on the first 2 albums, and even though the sound is progressive lite, it was still decent material, well orchestrated and full of beautiful, heartfelt songs, similar in style to Porcupine Tree with less development and improvisation. Now with SW's involvement mostly gone, we are left with only a shell of a band. Aviv's songs are definitely more pop oriented. Even the alternative side of the music is missing here for the most part.

Steven Wilson still sings lead on "Pills" and on "Jupiter" which are the 2 best songs on here. He also sings backup on the terrible "Sense of Insanity", but other than production, you don't hear anything else from Wilson here and the record suffers big time for it. Three other guest singers also participate here, but they have a hard time saving these weak tracks. Vincent Cavanaugh from the great band Anathema sings lead vocals on "X-Ray", Brett Anderson, a popular British artist sings on "Firefly" and Jonathan Donahue from The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, both excellent experimental bands, sings lead on "The Only Fool is Me". However, just like all of the other tracks on here, these songs are corny and weak and the guest vocalists, as great as they are, can't even save these songs. The rest of the tracks are helmed by Geffen, and they aren't any better. One positive about the album is that the instrumental passages are beautiful, lush and well orchestrated, but the lyrics and the melodies bring the songs down to a very amateur-ish style of songwriting. Over the years, you would think that SW's influence might have rubbed off on Geffen, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Geffen has said that he has convinced Wilson to keep his guitar solos down below 2 minutes, and Wilson was fine with that, Wilson wanted Geffen to take the band over. But now, there is hardly any guitar in any of the songs, just mostly the lush orchestration. The songs are also underdeveloped which is something I thought was usually a downfall of Blackfield, but now they are worse than ever, with all of the songs only lasting under 4 minutes on this album, and with 11 tracks and with the album only lasting barely over a half an hour (should have been an EP), the songs really have no room to breath, and when they do seem to be going somewhere and approaching something interesting, they are suddenly cut short. The sound of the album is very good, but the quality of the songs just isn't there. Geffen likes to compare Blackfield with Radiohead, King Crimson and Pink Floyd. He's got a long way to go. These songs are sometimes even too cheesy for pop songs. 2 stars and that is only because the production is so good on this.

Report this review (#1431294)
Posted Saturday, June 27, 2015 | Review Permalink

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