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Porcupine Tree - Up The Downstair CD (album) cover

UP THE DOWNSTAIR

Porcupine Tree

 

Heavy Prog

3.90 | 964 ratings

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TCat
5 stars "Up the Downstair" is the 2nd official studio full LP release from Porcupine Tree, or in reality, it was mostly all Steven Wilson. It is a vast improvement from the debut album "On the Sunday of Life" because that album was a culmination of prior tracks from demo sessions and the like. This one is so much better produced and the songs are so much more mature.

This album was originally supposed to be a double album which was to include "Voyage 34", a psychedelic mostly instrumental track which was to take up the entire 2nd disc. It was decided to leave that track off, however, it was released separately after. In my opinion, adding that disc-long track would have taken away from this album. The album has been re- mastered a few times. In 2004, the electronic drums from the original recordings were removed and Gavin Harris, who would later become the full time drummer for the band, completely redid the drums, and this improved the overall sound immensely.

As I said earlier, Steven Wilson performed almost all of the instruments on this release. The only exceptions are on "Always Never" where the bass is performed by future member Colin Edwin and the electronics on "Up the Downstair" which is performed by future member Richard Barbieri. Also, if you get the 2004 edition, which I suggest, then Gavin Harris performs all of the drums. Alan Duffy, who worked with Wilson several times before this album, also co-wrote several of the tracks.

After the short psychedelic introduction of "What You Are Listening To?" you immediately hear the great improvement on "Synesthesia". Wilson's vocals have improved and so has the overall sound in this upbeat track which is somewhat similar to a Pink Floyd vibe. You will hear that influence, along with some Ozric Tentacles influence throughout this album. There is a lot of keyboard and electronics, but there is also a lot more excellent guitar solos on this album. It also retains a lot of the psychedelic feel of the debut album, but it sounds so much better and current. Another short transition track follows and then we get the excellent "Always Never" which continues with this excellent music and features another great guitar solo.

"Up the Downstair" is a 10 minute instrumental. You hear shades of that psychedelic sound that you hear in "Voyage 34" and "The Sky Moves Sideways", but in a much more condensed form, and this track also moves along at a much better pace. The guitar riffs in this, which interrupt the floating keyboard passages a few times, are simply awesome. This is an excellent track reminiscent of Ozric Tentacles with a little Rush mixed in. This is one of the best rock instrumentals ever.

"Not Beautiful Anymore" is a shorter track which features a field recording of a female talking about feelings of ecstasy, then a heavy riff kicks in. Again, we get another driving instrumental driven by guitar with layers of dreamy electronics. You also get that space rock feel from this one like the last track. This flows into a very short psychedelic track called "Siren", which in turn takes us into "Small Fish", a slower and atmospheric track with Wilson's layered vocals which have the feel of psychedelic folk. This one is probably more like the songs on the previous album, but, again, so much better and a beautiful Floydian guitar solo. We then segue into "Burning Sky", another long 11+ minute instrumental track that starts off with eerie keyboards for a while and then a fast, repeating guitar riff kicks in joined later by spacey keyboards, again somewhere between PF, Hawkwind and Ozric Tentacles. Great guitar work mixed with electronics with some heavier sections. Around 4:30, things quiet down to a ticking clock, breathing and ambient and atmospheric instruments. Just after 7 minutes, things suddenly kick back into high gear again with the repeating riff returning. A minute later, things go to a mid tempo melodic guitar solo, then it's back to the heavy section again, this time intensity increases until it climaxes into a few power chords and percussion and then goes ambient again until the end.

This all fades into the last track appropriately titled "Fadeaway" which starts with atmospheric keyboards, the a slow rhythm and strummed guitar chords. It floats along until another guitar solo takes over, and then Wilson's vocals start again.

This is an excellent album, very much improved over the previous album, and completely reminiscent of space rock and psychedelia of the 70s, but with a crisp and clear production that makes it all sound up to date. It's hard to believe most of the music is performed by Wilson on this album as it sounds so well done. Of course, the band would form not long after this, and many of these tracks were always current in Porcupine Tree's concert set list. Even though this one fell between their lesser debut album and "Voyage 34", it is a much better album than either one of them. It is definitely an essential album in the Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson discography and in any progressive library. While it's true it is not as heavy as their later albums, it is still very space rock oriented with influences from the bands I have mentioned before. When Wilson put these songs together, he said he didn't care how close to his influences he sounded, he just knew it sounded good. And it does. This is definitely an exceptional 5 star album.

TCat | 5/5 |

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