Steven Wilson: 4 1/2 (Kscope)
Is Steven Wilson the hardest working man in music? This is a question I and probably numerous music journos have posed since Porcupine Tree first came to precedence in the mid-nineties, he has gone on to have a successful career with that band and now with his solo career he is taking to new heights with his latest album Hand.Cannot.Erase breaking chart records around the world, between any of his own endeavours, recording and touring mostly, Wilson produces and mixes numerous albums for many other bands meaning that he does seem to be constantly working. So now not long after the release of his fourth album, Wilson has released a stopgap EP that collects songs that were written during the sessions for Wilson's previous two studio albums, the aforementioned Hand. Cannot. Erase. and The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories). Thus why the record is named 4 1/2.
As usual the songs are of the highest possible quality, the first song is the immediate My Book Of Regrets that has a lazy summer riff leading the opening part that moves and switches between pop and prog at the drop of a hat and then bursts into a bass led middle eight that features some superb soloing from the keyboards and guitar of Dave Kilminster before moving back into the dreamy verses again, this is the nearest thing to Porcupine Tree Wilson has done in years. The EP features contributions from Wilson's touring band Adam Holzman (Keyboards), Nick Beggs (Bass), Guthrie Govan (Guitar), Dave Kilminster (Guitar-Replaced Govan), Craig Blundell (Drums -Replaced Wackerman), Marco Minnemann (Drums), Chad Wackerman (Drums - Minnemann) and Theo Travis (Sax, Flute, Clarinet), with Wilson himself taking up any instrument he sees fit a well as supplying that unmistakable vocal. Year Of The Plague is a shimmering acoustic instrumental augmented by the synths that leads into the Happiness III which merges melancholic lyricism with jarring pop arrangement and Govan's trademark jazz guitars.
Another instrumental this time the swirling Sunday Rain Sets In bleeds into Vermillioncore which is darkly heavy with an electronic ambience similar to Wilson's No Man project with Tim Bowness. The haunting finale is a cover of a Porcupine Tree song Don't Hate Me which originally appeared on Stupid Dream, this remake is close to the original but the powerful chorus is taken by Ninet Tayeb who can be seen showing off her fantastic voice on both Hand.Cannot.Erase and in Wilson's live band. This is a brilliant precursor for Wilson's fifth album and is a testament that Wilson even creates magic on the songs he leaves off the album! 8/10
The Anchoress: Confessions Of A Romance Novelist (Kscope)
Catherine Anne Davies is Welsh born multi instrumentalist, songwriter and author who has performed with numerous artists, most notably Simple Minds, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as Ed Hardcourt, Martha Wainwright and Emmy The Great. As well as her musical endevours she has a PhD in Literature and Queer Theory, has published a book and contributed as a writer to NME. So much like Steven Wilson (as mentioned above) Catherine AD (her abbreviated guise) is a bit of a workaholic, as well as being a workaholic she also has the same penchant for genre straddling as Mr Wilson meaning that her debut album under the pseudonym of The Anchoress has been quickly picked up Kscope who deal in all things quirky and artistic. Let me get this out of the way Confessions Of A Romance Novelist is not prog rock, far from it but it is an album that draws from art rock, electronica, indie rock and mainstream pop and throws them all together with some excellent musicianship, songcraft and a fierce feminist attitude. For The Anchoress project Catherine AD has teamed up with Mansun's Paul Draper who supplies his production, guitar and vocals to the synth powered indie of You And Only You. As I've said this album encompasses many genres and works them all perfectly to create an album of progressive pop.
From the Nick Cave meets Portishead darkness of Long Head through the jazzy What Goes Around which sounds like Kate Bush in her glorious heyday, to the off kilter attitude drenched One For Sorrow that blends seamlessly into the angry, vengeful, explicit ballad P.S Fuck You which is mid album show stopper that's followed by the jaunty Popular that brings an element of that other Welsh contemporaries Marina & The Diamonds. Catherine AD is a superb musician and one look at the liner notes, which are beautifully designed to look like a Penguin Classics book, you can see that she handles most of the instrumentation with piano being her main weapon of choice. Just listen to the solo piano piece Bury Me to hear the beauty of just a single voice, a piano and some synths for atmosphere and you will realise that Catherine has sculpted this album for a while making sure that it represents her musical vision of telling stories to music using intelligent lyrics and a broad musical palette. As the album winds up with the excellent title track and a cover of Simple Minds' Rivers Of Ice you feel as if the album has told you the story stylised by the packaging and you are all the better for it. A beautiful album from a woman that is positively brimming with talent. 9/10
Crippled Black Phoenix: Spider Island (Seasons Of Mist)
Finally CBP are back in business after a long time in the wilderness, I've noted their membership problems in the live reviews I've done but they have now put out this excellent EP that reminds you of how good they are in the recorded format. It comprises four tracks, two new songs and a cover of Pink Floyd's epic Echoes, the ominous heaviness of Spider Island starts things off with a huge slab of monolithic doom that harks back to main man Justin Greaves time in the metal underworld, the rhythm guitars of Greaves are down tunes and rhythmic with Mark Funeverall and Daisy Chapman's synths and keys leading the mind expanding as the engine room of Niall Hone and Ben Wilsker power the tracks slow, brooding beat. On both this song and the second new track New Dark Age new lead guitarist Jonas Stalhammar shows his mettle as a guitarist especially on the ethereal beginning of this 16 minute track that has all the hallmarks of Floyd from the stabs of organ to the careening, emotive lead playing, this twist and turns giving CBP yet another huge epic to add to their live show, on the record it neatly leads into the cover of both parts of Echoes which sees CBP collaborate with Belinda Kordic who Greaves collaborates more frequently with on the Se Delan project (in fact this cover has already appeared on Se Delan's Oh'Ech-oes) the cover is almost perfect for CBP as it shows Floyd at their most experimental and also their most ant-establishment something that suits CBP's take no prisoners attitude. Spider Island is an excellent little EP that sees CBP come back with style and a renewed life. 8/10