Round Table Review
Main CD/DVDA: Harmony Korine (5:08), Abandoner (4:48), Salvaging (8:17), Veneno Para Las Hadas (5:57), No Twilight Within The Courts Of The Sun (8:37), Significant Other (4:31), Only Child (4:24), Twilight Coda (3:25), Get All You Deserve (6:17), Insurgentes (3:55)
Bonus Disc: Port Rubicon (4:24), Puncture Wound (4:18), Collecting Space (5:10), Insurgentes [Mexico] (4:45), Untitled (4:47)
DVDA extras: 18 minute extract from the Insurgentes documentary and two album trailers
Ed Sander's Review
Insurgentes is Spanish for 'insurgents' or 'rebels' and to a certain extent that's exactly what Steven Wilson's does with this record. He rebels against any conventional rule in music blending together styles and atmospheres like only he can. On any other record by any other band this would probably have been passed over as chaotic self-indulgence and to be honest that's probably partially what this all is. Wilson had already foretold that the album would feature material that didn't fit with any of his other bands like Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, No Man or Bass Communion (to name a few). In early interviews he even mentioned that the music would be so diverse, ranging from drones and noise to disco, that anybody would be hard pressed to like the thing from start to end.
Now that it's out these people seem to be very few in number, because I have a hard time finding anybody on the Net that's not raving about Insurgentes. Personally I don't think that's very justified. True (and unfortunately ?), the record is much less extreme in variation of styles than I had originally expected. Being a big fan of Porcupine Tree, No Man and Blackfield I also have to admit that Wilson rarely comes close to the level of quality of these bands. It's not that it's not all tastefully done and the compositions are inferior... It's just that the experimental edge and especially the need to include lots of industrial noise in about half of the songs simply spoils the enjoyment for me quite a bit. Compared to the music Wilson has released on the Cover Version singles this stuff is much less straightforward and darker at the same time. If you heard Wilson's version of Prince's Sign Of The Times you will remember the very intrusive noise segment. That's the closest his Cover Version singles come to Insurgentes.
Compared to Porcupine Tree there's a lot less variety within songs and at times the music is tediously repetitive and dragging. The dreaminess and ambience of No Man is present in some songs but is often rudely disturbed by aggressive noise instrumentation; think Pigeon Drummer of the last No Man album. Very rarely is the music as accessible and melodic as Blackfield. As a matter of fact, you'll have a hard time finding melodies on this record that stick in your mind and that you'll be humming long after you played the CD.
Steven Wilson has also been known to write some pretty morose stuff, but rarely has he reached the levels of depression we hear on this record. Inspired by post-punk shoe-gazing bands like Joy Division we get tracks like Salvaging and Only Child that would be best kept well away from any manic depressed person with access to razor blades or living close to a railway. Still, having said all this, there's a lot to enjoy here. Let's look at the individual tracks.
Harmony Korine is one of the most beautiful songs on the album. It's got that dreamy Porcupine Tree feel of the Sky Moves Sideways era, while the massive climax in the second half is more current day Tree. Although loud, that climax works well, like the very heavy section of Anaesthetize, and is a nice contrast with Wilson's fragile and high multi-vocals in the chorus. Together with the title track my favourites on the album.
Abandoner starts with programmed drums and melancholic vocals that initially remind me of No Man tunes like Truenorth. But that's before the very loud noise section unfortunately destroys the melancholic nature of the song in the last part. Salvaging is one of the longest tracks on the album and has that Joy Division feel to it. Depressed and repetitive it has it's moments but again the noise attack is not my cup of tea. The lovely emotional string intermezzo in the middle by the London Session Orchestra is wonderful but sandwiched between the previous and another drone/noise segment this moment of utter enjoyment is transformed into uneasiness again. Veneno Para Las Hadas starts like the guitar-only version of Sky Moves Sideways that was performed during the Blank Planet tour and can also be found on We Lost The Skyline. Before long however it turns into something much more No-Man-like; the harmonium brings back memories of the Together We're Stranger album. A very welcome point of rest after the previous tracks and a highlight for Tree and No-Man fans.
With No Twilight Within The Courts Of The Sun we're of again on more experimental terrain. This longest track on the CD starts very jazzy with that dissonant King Crimson style. After almost 4 minutes of fiddling around and another noisy climax the vocals finally come in. Whispering and mumbling Wilson does a 'Steve Hogarth' here and the track ends with a very unexpected and loud reprise of the main riff that scared the shit out of me the first time I played it. To be honest, the only bit I really like in this track is the Tree-like atmospheric intermezzo between 5 and 7 minutes. It's a shame such a delightful piece of music had to be incorporated in to something so inaccessible.
Significant Other is totally different. Dreamy as it is it almost sounds like a Christmas song. There's lots of harmony vocals and the distorted guitar sections in this one are very bearable because they are combined with female vocals of the Irish Clodagh Simmonds (of Ommadawn and Hergest Ridge fame). After the louder climax the song ends peacefully with glockenspiel. Wonderful stuff ! With Only Child it's back to shoe-gazing in true early The Cure or Joy Division style. The lyrics are spoken and although a bit repetitive this is not a bad song. It would probably not have been very much out of place on In Absentia. Not bad, but not one of the best either.
Twilight Coda is a rather unexpected ambient instrumental that could have come straight from Metanoia and bares traces of the atmosphere of Moonloop. A nice breather but I'd rather have seen the instrumental of the bonus disc (Collecting Space) on the album instead. 'Get All You Deserve in this world' might sound like the title of a very positive track, but the agony and depression do not get any worse than in this song. It moves from fragile and quiet (piano) to dark and menacing to very, very noisy and loud. Gavin Harrison's drum patterns in the second half are nice but I can't say the same for all the noise. Certainly not one of my favourites.
The albums is closed by the heart-wrenchingly beautiful title track Insurgentes, where Wilson proves that he's got more up his sleeve than shoe-gazing, drones and noise and can still write music that brings tears to your eyes. This piano-vocal tune reminds me quite a lot of Collapse The Light as far as atmosphere and melody are concerned. It is without a doubt one of my favourites on the album.
The limited edition box set comes with a bonus disc that includes a whopping 24 minutes of extra music (what the f*ck!?). Port Rubicon is without a doubt the least interesting (or most revolting?) track in the entire limited edition set and has rightfully been kept of the official album. It starts with some effects and speech before a massive drone section scares the living daylights out of you. This is only interrupted by a quiet intermezzo with Wilson reciting some lyrics. The track ends very abruptly, something I normally fiercely dislike but here it's a big relief. Utterly pointless.
Puncture Wound has The Cure written all over it. As a matter of fact, it sounds so much like A Forest that it's almost shameful. We know that Wilson admires this track and recorded it as one of his Cover Version singles, but this is where a tribute turns into plagiarism. By this time one starts to wonder why they have spend so much money for a 24 minute disc with inferior stuff on it. Fortunately the next couple of tracks save you from some major cognitive dissonance. Collecting Space is a wonderfully melodic track that is good enough to have been on the main album, although I do admit that stylistically it would probably be a bit out of place among the other tracks. It was originally meant as a Porcupine Tree track for Deadwing but never got used. Insurgentes [Mexico] is a different, original version of the main album's title track, performed in a church. It's nice an echoing and different enough to warrant a spot on this bonus disc.
After a minute of silence a fifth, uncredited 'hidden' track follows. It features prominent drum computer loops and is therefore probably in a demo phase. Still, it's a very interesting song that would not have been out of place on a Porcupine Tree record in finished form. I would have liked to have seen this track on the main album as well instead of one of my less favourite (and much less melodic) tracks.
One of the things I find most annoying about the limited edition of Insurgentes is that there's only 24 minutes of extra music on it, half of which really isn't all that interesting. Surely Mr. Wilson must have had more up his sleeve that these 5 tracks? There's quite a few tracks that were put on his MySpace page that could have filled this disc (Well You're Wrong, Cut Ribbon and there's a 16 minute version of Vapour Trail Lullaby to name a few). I personally couldn't care less about the big hard cover photo book. I buy this album for the music, not to have a big collection of somebody´s hobby shots that´s doesn´t fit anywhere in my CD collection so I have to put it among my collection of books, running the risk that it rarely gets played. What's more, there's no lyrics and the track titles, running times and credits are inconveniently printed in three different sections of the book. Why!?
The retail version that will be released in February features the CD and DVD version that both are part of this limited edition set. So I ended up paying 35 freakin' Euro's extra for somebody's picture book and 24 minutes of partially inferior music. Now, if only the set would have included the full Insurgentes documentary about Steven Wilson that would have been something, but we only get the 18 minute teaser that will also be on the retail version. Believe me, seeing Steven Wilson smash a couple of i-Pods does nothing for my appreciation of the whole set. He has made his point quite clearly without the need to revert to childishness.
To concluded, I think Insurgentes is an 'okayish' record with it's ups and downs. I really like some songs but I doubts if I would have had the patience to dig into the less accessible material if this hadn't been Steven Wilson's record. I would personally have liked something a lot less noisy and droney. Something more among the lines of his Cover Version CD singles. This record certainly does not bring me the same ecstatic enjoyment as his other projects and the box set was definitely a waste of my money.
Brendan Bowen's Review
This review is for the sold-out limited edition of Insurgentes released in November 2008. I was lucky enough to get a copy before the full release set for February and on first listen I was not disappointed. That is not to say that it doesn't contain some elements that definitely weren't meant for general consumption.
Disc 1: The first disc begins with Harmony Korine, a beautiful sounding piece that was presented as a teaser on the Insurgentes website. It is a great introduction and given what follows, it makes for a great contrast to the sombre mood that follows. Abandoner takes the lofty high away and drives the listener into a dark place with such an intuitive capability that the roller coaster ride is not only fun but also inspiring. This song sounds like it could have even been included in the recent Porcupine Tree releases of Fear Of A Blank Planet or Nil Recurring. The album follows with Salvaging which lines out a bit of a coarser element contrasted highly against the next tune Venemo Par Alas Hadas, which uses a blend of monotone beats with whispery vocals.
From here the likeness to Porcupine Tree takes flight with No Twilight Within The Courts Of The Sun, but one has to go back in the catalogue to the likes of Voyage 34 or The Sky Moves Sideways. The heavy vs. lofty immediate shifts that occur midstream with the ensuing rise back to menacing is present here that have been typified by Steven Wilson's writing style and have set him apart from the fray in a way that could be considered part of his signature.
Significant Other follows and is quite breathtaking to listen to. It is a testament to Steven's ability to create an atmosphere that for me defies description and is followed by Only Child, which for Steven Wilson is a more pedestrian tune with a great bass line carrying it along and straight-forward drum beats making for an enjoyable respite before the disc moves into a rather dreary instrumental, Twilight Coda followed by the even more dreary and even down right wrenching Get All You Deserve… not that there is anything wrong with that, of course.
Disc one leaves us with the warm sound of Insurgentes that closes with a dark and interesting melody reminding us that the talent of Mr. Wilson and his ability to formulate memorable melodies that remain fresh listen after listen.
Disc 2: Port Rubicon is the lead song on disc 2 and is the obvious reason this second disc is separated from the wider distribution. It is a brash and off-key oddity that is intentionally unpleasant and would fall under the oft-used term “experimental” when most descriptions just wouldn't do. The disc picks it up in the second track with Puncture Wound and sounds like something that was inspired by old pioneers of the alternative genre such as The Cure, or Tones On Tail. Collecting Space is next with a moving and comfortable instrumental and finishing out with a version of Insurgentes [Mexico] which was recorded in a church that allowed for some fun effects in spaciousness. The final song is Untitled and uses a droning bass to introduce another song that again takes me back to the alternative scene of the 1980's.
The music is augmented with some well-known superstar guest musicians such as Gavin Harison, Tony Levin, and Jordan Rudess, among others. With names like these, there can be no downside.
The production quality of this release is amazing. I listened to this both on high quality and medium quality systems and both sounded great, however the details to be found in the production are not to be missed. In this respect I appreciate the inclusion of the DVDA disc in this and the future release of Insurgentes.
Included is a book of photographs that are interesting and match the mood of the music quite well. I was disappointed that the lyrics weren't printed somewhere in this thick book, especially considering the message that Wilson is portraying in the documentary preview for the forthcoming DVD release titled the same.
To conclude, I vacillated in which recommendation I would give this release. In the end I have to base my recommendation on this collector set edition alone and not the general release. So despite my glowing review, I cannot bring myself to recommend this to everyone. It is a tasty treat for the fan of Wilson's style and originality, but not worth the original price for everyone else since the best songs (which would easily warrant a grade of 9) are available for immediate download with pre-purchase of the forthcoming general release on KScope.
Dave Baird's Review
Steven Wilson is one of the most prolific and charismatic figures in progressive rock today. His output ranges from the heavy pop/prog/ metal/ambient style of Porcupine Tree to the pure ambient instrumentals of Bass Communion, Blackfield and No Man falling somewhere between the two. In addition his musical, lyrical, vocal and production style is so well know that it's probably close to impossible for him come-up with anything that isn't recognisable to the artist on first listening. Insurgentes is no exception, being a chimera of all his different styles on the one CD, in fact if one were to trace a square with each of the above four bands on each corner then you could probably visually represent this album by plotting each song within those boundaries depending on which influences it reveals, with each being represented in roughly equal proportions although there's a strong bias towards ambience.
Pending the full release in February next year this limited edition contains two CD's, the second of which won't be immediately re-released. These editions sold out almost immediately, such is Steven's standing now, and unless you're prepared to pay silly money on eBay you'll have to wait for the full release. The good news is that if you pre-order via the website you get instant access to a download of the MP3's - welcome indeed but seems to go against all Steven is preaching regarding his dislike of music being reduced purely to the electronic format without supporting packaging and artwork.
A few of the tracks are up there with Steven's best work from recent years, Steven has a great talent for melancholy harmony and he's on fine form. Salvaging and Puncture Wound in particular would seamlessly merge into a PT set-list from the FOABP period. Only Child and Veneno Para Las Hadas on the other hand hark back more to the mid to late 90's. More in No Man vein we have Harmony Korine, Abandoner and the title track. Significant Other deserves special mention - it is Blackfield on acid. Melancholic and initially winsome it changes into the most incredibly awesome descending guitar sequence with Clodagh Simonds adding Enya-ish vocals floating in the background. Immense, cinematic and beautiful, Barbieri-ish sound-scapes permeating throughout.
There are some small sunrises, No Twilight Within The Courts Of The Sun is surely one of the tracks that sounds the least like Steven Wilson as we know him - the beginning of this piece sounds somewhat like a 1973 King Crimson bluesy jam, Tony Levin's bass presence no doubt adding to this feel. The piece evolves through cacophony (a theme used elsewhere, beware) into a nice proggy middle section with mellotron-ish strings, into a piano based section sounding remarkably like UK's Danger Money before a descent into the sonic maelstrom once more. I personally love it but my poor wife passed the comment "This is horrible music"... Twilight Coda rounds up the remainder of Disc 1 - essentially an ambient instrumental it's a lot like the music of Nouvelles Lectures Cosmpopolite, whether that's just coincidence or influence I have no idea but it doesn't really fit on the album very well and sounds like filler to me, a shame as there are some better pieces on the second CD that could have been utilised.
On CD2 we also have another instrumental, Collecting Space, which, for all the world sounds like Dream Theater. There are two rehash tracks, Port Rubicon (Salvaging plus a new vocal section) and Insurgentes [Mexico] - essentially the same piece slightly extended. Untitled (a 'hidden' track) is also a bit off-track for Steven with it's strange electro-pop intro but it settles into a familiar rhythm once the chorus comes in with signature Wilson guitar arpeggios and heavily distorted solo.
As you would expect the production throughout is of the highest order. On the whole it is leaning towards softness, dripping with warmth and thick reverb as though it was recorded in a cathedral. The album contains a lot of dynamics too with many of the pieces switching between gentle ambience and sonic assault - be aware on the first listen!
Overall a nice release, there is something for everyone and perhaps those Porcupine Tree fans that didn't yet take the time to checkout Steven's other projects would be able to use this as a bridge. For lovers of those projects this is a no-brainer, a must-have.