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Porcupine Tree - Signify CD (album) cover


Porcupine Tree


Heavy Prog

3.85 | 1364 ratings

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4 stars Porcupine Tree's fourth official full length album, "Signify" released in 1996, proved to be a game-changer for the band. First of all, it was the first full album in which the entire band performed throughout. Previous to this, Steven Wilson was pretty much in charge of everything with occasional help from different people. Their previous album "The Sky Moves Sideways" did present the full band, however, parts of it were still all Wilson. Now, at last, the quartet of Wilson, Richard Barbieri, Colin Edwin and Chris Maitland were together as a full band for the entire album.

The second thing that made this album different from the previous ones, is that the project was moving away from the psychedelic stylings that were dominating their music and shifting more towards a traditional rock sound with a lot of progressive sensibilities thrown in. The psychedelic aspect wouldn't go away completely yet, but the tracks were getting shorter on the average, and more standard. However, the tone for the music was moving into darker places, and hints of the heavier sound of a later phase of the band were already beginning to appear in the music.

By the time Wilson's project was getting ready for the 2nd full length album, he had already had some experience in his other projects ("No-man" and "Bass Communion", not to mention the EPs and demo tapes he produced), and he had pretty much perfected his psychedelic rock sound when "Lightbulb Sun" was released, and then the excellent "The Sky Moves Sideways". Now, with "Signify" defining a change in the overall sound and with playing with other musicians, there was obviously some acclimatizing that had to be done in order to get back the that perfect sound again. Even though "Signify" ended up netting itself into a decent album, it wouldn't quite make it up to the standard of excellence set by its immediate predecessors.

The album starts off with "Bornlivedie", which wouldn't really surprise many listeners as it mostly consists of atmopsherics and spoken word recordings to introduce the title track coming up next. "Signify" is a definite heavy rocker, instrumental, and there to make a sudden statement. The riff immediately catches your attention and it seems the band is there to kick some butt. However, I'm not sure what possessed them to follow that up with a more average sounding track "The Sleep of No Dreaming", which even after many, many listenings, it still has a hard time cementing itself into my memory. It's a good enough track, but doesn't really have a needed hook to follow up the rousing "Signify". After that, another short, atmospheric, intermediary track "Pagan" slips by without much notice.

Never fear, though. This is followed with the excellent one-two punch of "Waiting" Phase One and Phase Two. The first phase carries the main theme and song while the second phase works off of the band's previous strengths of improvised sound with psychedelic leanings. It also introduces the band's signature harmonization sound which fans would begin to take for granted as their sound became more familiar. Both phases are very strong and restores your faith in the band for its strong cohesive playing and songwriting skills. The album then continues with the effective "Sever" which has strong, intense verses and mellower and harmonic choruses. Field recordings are peppered throughout the track to add to the intensity when needed, yet the flow from intense to mellow is smooth and very professional sounding.

It's also obvious that there are a lot less instrumentals on this album than on previous albums. "Idiot Prayer" is only the 2nd instrumental up to this point, at least in a full song. Following in the same formula as some of their longer instrumental tracks, this one begins soft and atmospheric, soft percussive noises, warm swashes of flute, and atmospheric guitar. This builds slowly in intensity, and then really starts to roll when the drums and bass kick in, backed by synth foundations and building guitar, and looped and processed spoken words. This builds against the ramblings of what seems to be a preacher with an unholy crescendo, then backs off to an atmospheric middle section that borrows from the lovely sounds of "The Sky Moves Sideways" with the Gilmour-like guitar effects. The loud section returns again abruptly and finishes the track off.

"Every Home is Wired" goes for a more acoustic sound with Wilson's vocals on the verses and then layered vocals on the choruses with some great sonic effects. The melody is very nice and intriguing, plus the harmonics are once again spot on. The real psychedelic, meandering sound comes back with the track "Intermediate Jesus", but the track just kind of flows along without developing into anything. It's nice, but not up to par to previous material. Again, there is some rambling spoken words from what sounds like a preacher. "Light Mass Prayers" continues in this vein using more synthesizers this time, staying with a dark ambience as they fade in and out. This track is an obvious Barbieri-style track which follows the same style as his solo efforts.

The last track on the CD is "Dark Matter". This track brings back the new direction of the band with dark vocals and harmonics. Wilson was still sort of finding his feet with lyrics, and the weakness shows in this track, however, the strong instrumentals in the track make up for this and overall, it ends up giving the album a powerful ending. The vinyl edition also contained one more track "The Sound of No-one Listening". This track was actually used on the CD edition of the "Waiting" single that was released previous to the album. It is an instrumental, albeit one of the stronger ones from the sessions for this album.

Later editions of this album came with a 2nd disc that were outtakes and demo versions from the sessions. The 2nd disc was mostly material taken from the cassette "Insignificance" with a different track listing and a few other track changes. Many think that the 2nd disc is the same as the EP, but it's not quite the same as the EP had the tracks "Door to the River" and "Insignificance" where the disc that came with the reissue had the track "Dark Origins" which is actually the demo version of "Dark Matter"

One of the strengths with Porcupine Tree's sounds is their use of dynamics. Sure, they are not the loudest band out there, however, their use of a mix of mellower passages make the intense sections even more powerful than some progressive metal bands that haven't learned how to use dynamic effectively yet and only strive to make things as loud as possible, thus making their music less powerful. Thank goodness PT found a better way to make powerful music, dark and dynamic, sometimes brooding and other times intense and heavy. This album starts to show off that strength along with beautiful harmonies that were unique to the band also. But it hasn't quite perfected them yet and there are weak points in the album that tend to bring its overall score down. It would be a while, but each album would eventually bring the band back to its high standard of excellence.

TCat | 4/5 |


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