Issue 2009-042: Porcupine Tree - The Incident - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Disc 1: Occam's Razor (1:55), The Blind House (5:47), Great Expectations (1:26), Kneel And Disconnect (2:03), Drawing The Line (4:43), The Incident (5:20), Your Unpleasant Family (1:48), The Yellow Windows Of The Evening Train (2:00), Time Flies (11:40), Degree Zero Of Liberty (1:45), Octane Twisted (5:03), The Séance (2:39), Circle Of Manias (2:18), I Drive The Hearse (6:41)
Disc 2: Flicker (3:42), Bonnie The Cat (5:45), Black Dahlia (3:40), Remember Me Lover (7:28)
Ed Sander's Review
Two years after the release of the highly acclaimed Fear Of A Blank Planet album, Porcupine Tree return with another quality release. The Incident consists of two discs, the first one being the continuous 55 minute song cycle The Incident and the second disc another 20 minutes of unrelated band compositions. As Steven Wilson explained in the interview with DPRP the main song cycle deals with life-changing incidents in his own life and incidents that the media tend to cover in a dehumanised way. I will not go into the concept further in this review; please refer to the interview for all the interesting details.
After the successful three-piece Anesthetize on the previous album Steven Wilson has found the experience and confidence to compose an album length song cycle that flows like one continuous piece. To be perfectly honest, there are two or three moments (like the after Time Flies and before I Drive The Hearse) where the flow isn't continuous but broken by a second or two of silence. Still - besides these - most of the songs flow into the each other seamlessly. As such this album is to Porcupine Tree what Misplaced Childhood is to Marillion, Dark Side Of The Moon or The Wall to Pink Floyd, Supper's Ready to Genesis and Subterranea to IQ. As with these albums there's also recurring musical themes on The Incident. The heavy guitar riff that opens the album in Occam's Razor returns in The Blind House and Degree Zero Of Liberty, while the latter track contains a melody that also returns in the two songs that follow. As a matter of fact, the flow of the four songs that follow Time Flies is so amazingly well done that they should actually be considered a 12 minute epic. All of this doesn't only make The Incident the most coherent release of the band to date, it's also without a doubt the reason why I like the song cycle so much, because this is exactly my cup of tea. I really like albums with shorter songs that flow into each other and in which themes are revisited and rearranged. I'll take that any day over say... a Transatlantic album.
I'll not go into all of the individual songs since my fellow reviewers probably have a lot to say about them as well. Let me just state that musically The Incident sums up all of the things that Porcupine Tree is about and uses all of the different styles the band has gone through in the last 20 years. When I try to explain people what the band is all about I normally play them Blackest Eyes since it touches on all of the band's styles in little over 4 minutes; the heavy metal, the acoustic song-based stuff, the vocal harmonies, the psychedelic and ambient moments ... the works. The Incident is just like that, going through all different styles in it's 55 minutes while being more diverse and varied than the band has ever been on one album. At the same time the music is very recognisable and 'typically' Porcupine Tree, which by now means that the band is reminding you of previous material instead of other bands.
On the album there's a lot more acoustic guitar, one of the reasons why it reminds me of the Lightbulb Sun period. The start of Time Flies (the almost 12 minute ode to Pink Floyd's Animals album) sounds a lot like the second half of Last Chance To Evacuate, meeting the vocal melody of Stars Die. Later parts of Time Flies have the same atmosphere as Russia On Ice (middle section). But there's just as much of other albums to be spotted; some sound and styles that have been 'used' in Hatesong, Tinto Brass, What Happens Now?, In Formaldehyde, the end section of Anesthetize, the synth throb of the opening of Sleep Together, the chunky riffs of Mother And Child Divided and it's weird time signatures .. to name a few. But also bits that sound like Insurgentes (the song, not the album) and Blackfield (the band, not the album, not the song) on disc 2. To sum it up, this album is trademark Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree but fortunately without ever sounding too much like complete self-plagiarism.
There's four short instrumentals on The Incident ranging from the heavy Circle Of Manias to the psychedelic Yellow Windows Of The Evening Train. And of course there's a large instrumental section in Time Flies. This is a nice change from the very lyrical heavy last two albums and another reason why The Incident feels more balanced.
As mentioned, disc two comes with four more pieces. The band decided to place these on a separate EP and release it with the main song cycle instead of on a later EP release like Nil Recurring. Steven Wilson explains it all in the interview and although it took a while to get used to the idea I think it was a wise decision. The pieces, all band compositions, are very different. Although I have to admit that the melancholic Flicker and Black Dahlia probably don't reach the same heights as the material of The Incident, they still are fine pieces of music that are at least on par with some of the excellent 'B-side' material on Recordings. The most interesting tracks however are Bonnie The Cat and Remember Me Lover. The first of these is a menacing piece with a bass line I can only describe as 'Knightrider on LSD' and a vocal style in which every syllable follows a drum beat. Remember Me Lover is a mini epic with the same cynical approach to relationships we've seen on the Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun albums or songs like Start Of Something Beautiful and Open Car.
This new 75 minute collection of Porcupine Tree material has a hard task of following up Fear Of A Blank Planet. Without a doubts there's going to be fans that will be disappointed but I personally think the band succeeded gloriously. For me the coherence, consistency, variety and theme of The Incident are exactly up my alley of taste. I would seriously dare to say that while Blank Planet has some of the band's best songs, the song cycle of The Incident is one of the best things the band has done to date. The second disc simply serves as a great series of bonus tracks to this. I rarely rate above 9 points out of 10, but I feel like this might well become my favourite Porcupine Tree album over time, so I will have to rate the song cycle above the other albums I reviewed and on par with it's predecessor, with the second disc pulling it slightly down again to 9 out of 10. Highly recommended !
Brendan Bowen's Review
It doesn’t seem that long ago when Porcupine Tree was a band relegated only to those who were “in the know” and knew how to root out the finer and lesser known bands of our time. While still not exactly a household name, this band is gaining popularity and worldwide notoriety for very good reason. With a steady output between Porcupine Tree and frontman Steven Wilson’s solo and other work, there is a lot of material to digest.
The latest creation by Porcupine Tree is called The Incident. The critical acclaim of their previous release, Fear Of A Blank Planet, has created a great deal of anticipation. When a band produces something that feels like a pinnacle album it is hard to imagine how it could be followed up - especially for fans of PT who have come to expect each release to top their previous work in one way or another. The answer to the question is that this album sounds like they didn’t necessarily try to top it; they went a different direction and went large and paid some respect to previous works that have inspired them and marked a trail that shows where they came from in the process. It is a brilliant move and I believe will be well received - with a caveat on “well received” since this album is complicated and will require some time to truly appreciate what PT is saying and doing with their music.
The album has a theme that takes the listener through the various emotional states from the trauma of such things as a severe car crash where the incident is a moment from which life will never be the same for the participant. The drive-by observer of the incident is so detached from the horrific reality that the term “incident” takes on a particular coldness in its inherent euphemism.
It opens ominously as we would expect of a new PT release but slides gently into some familiar sounds reminiscent of the Lightbulb Sun era but that doesn’t last long since this album changes pace many times. The versatile dynamic structure for this album is probably unmatched in their catalog. The title track is a fresh and heavy sound covered with a Roger Waters’ descriptive aptitude and influence that puts the listener into the trauma and then shortly moves back into older more familiar territory.
The highlight of the album for me is Time Flies. This song is a salutary nod to Pink Floyd’s Animals album and is extremely well done. In light of many other artists’ tributes that merely mimic the work of Floyd, this is a decidedly Steven Wilson affair paying an obvious respect to a highly influential previous work. The soundscape in the middle of this piece is perhaps the finest dark mood segment of Porcupine Tree or Steven Wilson. Speaking of dark moods, this album is quite dark in places and the lyrics are heavy as well. This is prog rock for the “big kids” where the expansiveness of the material is likely to fly past the uninitiated and the content too diverse for casual consumption. Wilson’s solo work, Insurgentes, was quite dark as well, but this is all PT material and any comparisons to Insurgentes do not work for me. There will be some similarities but The Incident is best taken in an an entire piece of work where Insurgentes is a collection of very different songs.
The most standout musical element to me is the drumming of Gavin Harrison. His unhurried, unique style is so appropriate to the content that just hearing his cymbal-play in I Drive The Hearse is a treat all in its own. The incredible production makes the individual components blend together so well, and owing to cerebral song structure, it is easy to forget this is the work of a group of guys playing individual instruments. Layered within the compositions is a masterful display of sound textures and effects that only enhance the mood and effect.
The second disc contains four songs that didn’t fit musically into the album proper and makes for a decent EP. The content is relevant to the release since the songs are inspired by other “incidents” that in one way or another left an impression on Wilson. I like how this was included with this disc rather than waiting for a separate release that would require another shipping charge or the hassle of another download from an lesser known source. The 4 extra songs won’t be as well received, that is for sure, but I really like them; the songs are diverse and quite different - especially Bonnie The Cat, which is a blast to listen to. Once again, the band gives us something unexpected and even unusual and it doesn’t hurt the main body of work at all.
If I had any complaints at all, some of the transitions from song to song were a little disjointed and the pop sounding segment in Drawing The Line breaks up an otherwise stellar album. I can even understand the context of that piece and it works for the setup to the next song, but it really is something I would just as soon skip over. Personally, (and maybe I am reaching) as I listen to this album I can’t help but to imagine that if Syd Barrett had been able to stay with the lads, Floyd would have evolved into something like this. Even though it pays some respect to the past, this truly is new material and Porcupine Tree surrenders nothing with this extremely adventurous masterpiece. I recommend it highly and won’t remove it from my playlist anytime soon.
Dave Baird's Review
Fear Of A Blank Planet was an album raved about and indeed I awarded it a perfect 10, and more than two years later I still listen to it regularly and find it it as exciting and as fresh as ever. On top of that the Nil Recurring EP was a little masterpiece in its own right, containing arguably better material than the main release. Since those releases the band's following has gone from strength to strength, they now comfortably fill 2000+ seat venues and their two-night residency at Tilburg 013 for the recording if the FoaBP DVD (whatever happened to that anyway?) was sold out quite some time in advance. It’s fair to say that they’re on a bit of a roll and one of the premier bands of any genre. Needless to say that the new CD is one of the major events on many prog lovers calendar, myself included.
Before going on to the music, I'd like to rant a bit regarding the format, I find it totally bizarre that this is a double CD release. It is well documented that Steven Wilson is keen to get people to start re-appreciating the packaging of music as being integral to the experience (the limited edition of his Insurgentes and the pending limited edition of The Incident are testimony to that), but all the music would easily fit on the one CD and this seems very wasteful for little artistic gain. Perhaps a double CD for the limited edition and a single CD for the mainstream release would have been better, how many barrels of oil will it take to produce all those extra discs? Rant over...
Disk 1 is of course the 55 minute piece The Incident which is made up of 14 loosely-coupled tracks which generally flow into one another and share some musical themes but are lyrically disparate, each one deriving from separate “incidents” in Steven’s life, something he has seen, read about, some other experience. I was a little surprised at this, thinking beforehand that it was a full-blown concept album with a story like FoaBP, not the case. Despite that the tracks aren't really suitable for listening in isolation, although there are some exceptions, it really only works when regarded as a single track. Broadly speaking the band have stepped back a bit from the metal edge that they had on the last three CD's and slipped into a more ambient groove more reminiscent of earlier Porcupine Tree and certainly reflecting some of Steven's solo work, there's quite some feel from Insurgentes and certainly quite some moments of mellow techno of the type that you may have heard on No-Man's Schoolyard Ghosts.
I must have listened to this album 40 times in the last month and I find myself struggling to put my impressions into words. It's a bit of a conundrum because taken one-by-one many of the tracks are magnificent, Time Flies being the standout moment with its mix of atypical Porcupine Tree acoustic song bookending an immense and deeply satisfying instrumental mid-section. Rich with several Pink Floydian influences, the combination of the recurring acoustic picking, doom-laden single guitar notes, busy drumming and the most intense guitar-solo I've ever heard Steven play, it's really the magic moment on the CD and surely one of Porcupine Tree's finest. It's also one of the few tracks where you can really hear Colin Edwin's bass, in fact he's playing quite a busy bass line during the song part which sounds an awful lot like something Jonas Reingold could have come up with. The other stand-out piece is Circle Of Manias, a heavy thumping song with thudding bass and space-guitar, sounds straight off the Nil Recurring sessions, probably why I like it so much. The Blind House is another of the heavier tracks starting well, not unlike the guitar riff in the middle of Mother & Child Divided (from the Arriving Somewhere DVD & FoaBP DVD-A) that then morphs into a nice melody (strangely sounds a lot like Tarkus) with lilting guitar. The track loses its way after the mid-point though with a too-long ambient section. And this is perhaps my disappointment on the track as a whole, there are just too many of these moments where the music gets a bit lost and perhaps times when a stronger theme should have been expanded a bit - Great Expectations for instance is a wonderful piece, good melody, strong arrangement and criminally only lasts for 1 minute 20 seconds before the mostly forgettable Kneel & Disconnect begins with its heavy No-Man overtones. Likewise Drawing The Line also fails to inspire although perhaps it's not clear why, seems to be a decent song at face value but leaves me cold.
The title track, The Incident, has a heavier techno opening with spooky guitar which I don't like at all, but it picks up with some fat chunky guitar riffing, while Your Unpleasant Family has a nasty drum-machine intro, yak! There's better to be had with Octane Twisted, a more typical Porcupine Tree song with lush vocal harmonies and a heavy Nil Recurring section at the end. Many of these themes are repeated in The Séance. The track rounds-up with I Drive The Hearse which I find a bit think and uninspiring. So overall not a resounding success for myself and although there are some really remarkable moments they're too lost in between filler moments and weak songs by their usual standards. Edit the track down to 40 minutes and it would be amazing...
So to the second disc, Flicker is a very melow track which doesn't really go anywhere, on a par with Glass Arm Shattering from Deadwing whereas Bonnie the Cat is better although also rather ambient and overdoing the spooky sounds a bit, it has a far better melody though and a good heavy riffing section with a typical dark tone and feel. Black Dahlia is another mellow track that bring to mind No-Man again, especially in the production with a luscious keyboard in a swirl stereo which is quite mesmerising on the headphones. It's a very pleasant track. More No-Man at the beginning of Remember Me Lover with the introduction being a dead-ringer for Song Of The Surf. It changes to a more traditional Porcupine Tree song after that and despite some good melodies and strong riffing drifts a bit and sounds formulaic.
It's fair to say I'm not overwhelmed by this release, probably my own fault for expecting too much. However I think I'm probably in the minority here because everyone I've spoken to that has heard the album loves it. Trying to be as objective as possible I can't fault the quality, I'm just finding too much of it passing me by, dare I say boring? Could be that it grows more over time, or seeing it live will tick all the right boxes and I'll end up loving it, and for sure it does have some stunning moments that will keep me coming back to it. I suspect I'll be reaching for Fear Of A Blank Planet far more often though.
Edwin Roosjen's Review
In 2007 Porcupine Tree released Fear Of A Blank Planet and for many this was the album of the year, for some people any new album by Steven Wilson is album of the year. Steven Wilson has a wide variety of output, he also participates in Blackfield, No-Man, Bass Communion and if that is not enough artistic output he also created a solo album. For some reason, however, I prefer the releases from Porcupine Tree over the rest, with Blackfield as a close follower. Though not really changing his music style all the albums of Porcupine Tree are widely regarded as the best of progressive rock.
The first disc can be considered as one piece of music as all the songs are attached with fluent transitions. Some songs are of normal size, some are small intros or outros and some are epic. Occam's Razor is the intro tune to the album that contains a chord pounding that is sort of a recurring theme for the album. That is about all it is, a chord being hammered on a couple of times and if it were a stand alone thing it would be bad, but I look at it as decoration, curtains to make the view more attractive. The Blind House is where the album really starts, beginning with a typical Porcupine Tree sound with beautiful dark chords pounding at your ears. The sound is only a small step away from Fear Of A Blank Planet, a bit less metal sounding. No guitar solo but an ambient centrepiece.
Great Expectations is a small piece but cannot be considered an intro or outro. It has the sound of a 'normal' song but just not as many choruses and bridges. While Great Expectations has an up-tempo happy feeling Kneel And Disconnect is dark and slow with piano. Nice transition to Drawing The Line starting with mellow drumming and piano. The popular sounding chorus to this song is faster and heavier and in high contrast with the rest of the song. The Incident reminds me of the album The Fragile by Nine Inch Nails. A dark song with many electronic sounds creating the melodies and rhythms, just like Trent Reznor likes to display. Your Unpleasant Family seems like an extension to The Incident. The transition is seamless but somehow the electronics have been changed into guitars. The Yellow Windows Of The Evening Train is the longest title to a piece of music that can be regarded as a filler. Time Flies is definitely the major track on this album as Anesthetize was for Fear Of A Blank Planet. It starts like the album Animals by Pink Floyd, with acoustic guitar with an organ in the background. This song goes through many phases, the structure is a bit similar to Anesthetize though that song was a lot darker. What it does not have is a very loud and fast bit, but it also does not have an overstretched boring end part. On Degree Zero Of Liberty the pounding chord from beginning is revisited, nothing more interesting to say about this song.
Octane Twisted starts very mellow with acoustic guitar and I expected a sleepy ballad, however this song actually becomes one of the most interesting tracks on this album, it's like a short version of Anesthetize. Many changes from ambient parts to loud pounding riffs. The same thing can be said for The Séance together with Circle Of Manias. These two songs feel like a copy of Octane Twisted and thus also a short version of Anestethize. I Drive The Hearse is a ballad that is very mellow. Nice vocals that stick in your head: "Silence is another way, of saying what I want to say". It is so catchy and simple you wonder why no one ever thought of them before. This first disc is simply amazing and some parts stand out as songs by themselves, but it also is a great solid piece of music.
The second disc is not even twenty minutes of music that you can consider a bonus disc within the official release. Flicker is a slow song with an ambient touch and Bonnie The Cat has that Nine Inch Nails sound again. Black Dahlia should be on the next Blackfield album, Remember Me Lover is the only song on the second disc that can reach the level of the first disc.
All I can say is that Steven Wilson did it again and it would not surprise me if this is the album of the year, it certainly is for me. The structure is a bit the same as Fear Of A Blank Planet, about six songs, but on this album it is glued together with smaller pieces of music. The overall sound is less metal sounding but at times I get flashbacks from Anesthetize. The album has that distinctive Porcupine Tree sound that Steven Wilson has created over the years. The main song on the first disc is Time Flies but some smaller songs together can also result in an epic, you can go many ways with this album. The second disc is, in my opinion, a bonus disc already within the official release. Four nice songs of which one, Remember Me Lover, can reach the high level of the first disc.