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Steven Wilson - Insurgentes CD (album) cover


Steven Wilson


Crossover Prog

3.81 | 1028 ratings

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Una Laguna
4 stars This album is definitely a Steven Wilson album. It sounds like a Steven Wilson album: the song structure and style is very reminiscent of his work in Porcupine Tree and Blackfield (unfortunately my knowledge of Wilson's work dries up after those two projects), and it sounds like him when he sings (although he sings the chorus of Harmony Korine worryingly high). Gavin Harrison's characteristic drumming is also on display throughout the album. But at the same time, it doesn't sound like a Porcupine Tree album, or a Blackfield album.

The similarities more-or-less end there. The atmospheres which help to characterise the "Porcupine Tree sound" are absent, probably because Richard Barbieri was out of the picture on this album. I read in (another) interview that Wilson considers himself to be as much of a pianist/keyboardist as a guitarist on this album. Fair enough, except there really isn't that much keyboard or piano on this album. At all. Sure, there's the mostly-piano Get All You Deserve and Insurgentes, and Jordan Rudess does some piano stuff on Twilight Coda, but that's about it. Oh no, wait! There was a bit of piano on Veneno Para Las Hadas. And a teeny bit on No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun? That's about it, though.

The large absence of keyboards doesn't mean that this album isn't atmospheric. In (yet another) interview, Wilson commented on how the lack of a full-time keyboardist working on the album mean that he could experiment. Which is totally awesome. Few things are more fun than playing around with effects pedals, something Wilson must have done a lot of. And it works: the album has a very spooky, overpowering (I think that's the word I want?) feel. Porcupine Tree isn't exactly cheerful, but this album is friggin' DARK. And Wilson is as cheerful as ever on this album (that is, not at all). I have an Insurgentes desktop background on my laptop: it's a picture of Wilson standing in some desolate place (he seems to like those) looking decidedly miserable. Cheer up, Stevie! Making music is fun, right?

On a (sort of) tangent: Video games geeks who know anything about linear story-driven action will tell you that Half-Life 2 is one of the best out there. It succeeds not just by having some of the best weapons, level design and AI every, but also by its story and setting. It's set in a future where aliens have invaded Earth and taken it over and humans are oppressed in a bleak, Orwellian world (in what looks like East Europe). To give this paragraph some point: Insurgentes (the album, not the track) would have by far been the most appropriate score the game could have.

Okay, so that's probably enough talk about how atmospheric and not-like-Porcupine-Tree-but-still-like-Porcupine-Tree Insurgentes is. But atmosphere doesn't automatically make music awesome (as many Vangelis albums will show you) - so is it put in a solid context? If you've read this far then you probably know the rating I've given this album, so the answer must be yes.

First listen through this album, and it sounded good to me, but not amazing. Once I'd listened to this album a few more times it gave me a "PHWOAR" feeling. Avant-friggin'-gard, man! Art rock all the way! (As a side note, this album is very arty and very ambitious and avant-garde, but doesn't contain many of the hallmarks which would give it the "prog" sound.) It's ambitious and experimental nature means that by definition it's not going to be an album that grabs you after one listen.

Let's lump the tracks together by what they sound like. The "normal" (by WIlson's standards) tracks are Harmony Korine, Veneno Para Las Hadas, Only Child, Twilight Coda (the only instrumental on the main disc) and Insurgentes. Okay, I say they're normal but they're actually all completely different. There's the straightforward Harmony Korine and Only Child, two guitar-driven tracks oozing with crazy guitar distortion. The other three tracks mentioned are more laid-back: Veneno is slow, and melancholic, Twilight is a slow, eerie instrumental and Insurgentes is a simple piano ballad with added Koto. Because, y'know, Kotos are awesome.

Then there are the "not-so-normal", or "experimental", or "jeez-Louise what's he doing to my ears?" tracks. Abandoner, Salvaging, No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun, Significant Other and Get all you Deserve. Most of these tracks are actually fairly normal (by which I mean, on a par with the other tracks), but include noise or drone-stuff or something to make you jump. Get all you Deserve starts as a fairly pedestrian piano piece not dissimilar to Insurgentes, but gradually ends in a wall of noise. Salvaging is similar, a very tense piece which fades away to be replaced by a crazy orchestra noise thing. No Twilight has some incredulously weird vocals and some great basswork (thanks to Mr Levin). Oh, and do NOT listen to that track whilst driving. The really big, scary jump may make listening to that track the last thing you do.

So the music on the album is really very, very diverse. Whats unites it is the dark, heavy atmosphere and the vocals and lyrics (which, according to ANOTHER interview were mostly improvised - the common theme they share is randomness). My personal favourites are Salvaging, Insurgentes and Veneno Para Las Hadas (in that order).

Is it all awesome? No. It's not a flawless album. Indeed, it's diverse nature means that it's unlikely to please everyone on every track. My bugbears? Significant Other doesn't really do anything for me. It reminds me of that tune they used on the old British Airways ads (Aria by Yanni, I think?), but with extra noise. Twilight Coda seems a bit unfocused and aimless. Get All You Deserve gets great towards the end, but takes too long to get there. The beats from Abandoner will almost certainly put a lot of people off (it's not one of my favourite tracks but I still enjoy it) and some people will hate the whole album because of the noise-ness.

2008 felt like a slow year for music. Pendragon's Pure was a pretty good album and the Ayreon album wasn't bad, but otherwise nothing exciting happened. APART FROM THIS ALBUM. Unless you're going to be a prick and categorise it as a 2009 release (which so far has been a much better year, with the OSI, Heaven & Hell and Dream Theater albums to name but a few); even then, it still ranks very highly with its contemporaries.

Highly recommended for anyone searching for some ambitious rock.

Una Laguna | 4/5 |


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