Porcupine Tree

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Up The Downstair

Porcupine Tree - Up The Downstair ©1993 Delerium Records
1. What Are You Listening To...
2. Synesthesia
3. Monuments Burn Into Moments
4. Always Never
5. Up The Downstair
6. Not Beautiful Anymore
7. Siren
8. Small Fish
9. Burning Sky
10. Fadeaway

Originally, Porcupine Tree started out as an inside joke for Steven Wilson. The concept was that of a lost 70s prog rock band and the band's early cassette releases were filled with misinformation and falsified biographies. A good portion of that music ended up on Porcupine Tree's debut, On the Sunday of Life, but it wasn't until 1993's Up the Downstair that the band began to coalesce into a serious act set on proving themselves as opposed to being a gag.

Essentially Porcupine Tree was still a one man show on Up the Downstair, although future Tree members Colin Edwin and Richard Barbieri guested on a couple tracks on the album. Unlike On the Sunday of Life, Up the Downstair breathed much more impressively than its stiff predecessor. Filled with spacious soundscapes and ambient passages, Up the Downstairs is all at once contemplative, dreamy and lush. Between the floating nature of the electronics and Wilson's creative and flowing guitar playing, the album is a drifting ride through the stratosphere. This is the sort of album that lingers in your subconscious and wraps itself around your cortex in a very subtle fashion.

The first few Porcupine Tree albums were often a transcendent, barely lucid trip through ambient rock corridors. Up the Downstairs, despite the occasional uptempo moments (such as the fantastic "Synethesia"), can have the tendency to lull a listener. However, it's a good lulling. The album represents the first significant step for Porcupine Tree after a tongue-in-cheek start. As with essentially all the studio album, the album comes with high recommendations, particularly for those who like a lush neo-prog experience heavy on the ambience and spacious electronics.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/2002

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Porcupine Tree - Signify ©1996 Delerium Records
1. Bornlivedie
2. Signify
3. Sleep Of No Dreaming
4. Pagan
5. Waiting Phase One
6. Waiting Phase Two
7. Sever
8. Idiot Prayer
9. Every Home Is Wired
10. Intermediate Jesus
11. "Light Mass Prayers"
12. Darkmatter

Admittedly, Signify is the only Porcupine Tree album I've heard. If it's any indicator of the quality of their other albums, there is definitely some hard earned money to be spent. Porcupine Tree purvey an somber variety of art rock, alternating between haunting gloom and murky dissonance within rather linear rock numbers. Porcupine tree can be very complex, but also very subdued when minimalism is required. Their songs are often long and densely packed with prolonged instrumental jams, and yet nothing of their music can be accurately labeled meandering; the music simply drags you along in its serpentine course without boring you to tears in the process. Their music is suffocating and dark in spots, but also very bright and opulent when the mood strikes (such moods strike rarely). Lush mellotron ambiance fills the gaps in the album's flowing stream of aural highs and lows, bathing the listener in strangely comforting darkness.

The guitar lines are spacious affairs, threads of swirling reverb and cackling feedback. The guitars leave ample room between the notes for dark synth lines, subtle acoustics and vocal dynamism. The band's percussionist (and he certainly fits the title) Chris Maitland weaves trancy rhythms well suited to the music's otherworldly spaciousness; his beats course through the listener's veins and tend to be the first factor to entrance the careful listener. He deftly moves between vaguely North African beats and beautifully syncopated Latin American dance without missing a beat. The vocalist and guitarist Steve Wilson has a voice seemingly designed for the haunting music - he can soothe with a warm, deep tone or send shivers down one's spine with a foreboding high wail. His voice has brush strokes of neuroses and reflective melancholy; both his lyrics and vocal inflection tends towards the introspective and darkly self ironic.

Signify contains an abundance of effective experimentation in way of electronics, trance and ambient elements, and suffocating gloom. It also contains some very catchy songs, written to a hilt and perfectly executed. The tracks flow together, bringing disparate influences under the band's somewhat sinister direction, diluting them and redistributing them in a newly repackaged sound - a sound that is uniformly, unquestionably the band's own. Signify colors the world so effectively that even staring at a off-white wall becomes a singular and corrupt experience. Wonderful indeed.

Review by James Slone

Review date: 09/2000

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Stupid Dream

Porcupine Tree - Stupid Dream ©1999 Snapper Music
1. Even Less
2. Piano Lessons
3. Stupid Dream
4. Pure Narcotic
5. Slave Called Shiver
6. Don't Hate Me
7. This Is No Rehearsal
8. Baby Dream In Cellophane
9. Stranger By The Minute
10. A Smart Kid
11. Tinto Brass
12. Stop Swimming

Representing a slight shift away from their earlier, more dreamscape oriented style, Porcupine Tree reemerged in 1999 after a two and a half year hiatus from studio recording with Stupid Dream. The result is an album that sacrifices some of the band's more seductive trips into neo-ambient atmospheric rock to a more succinct, song oriented record. However, while more compacted at times, Stupid Dream is still a very ethereal and mood provoking listen.

The production for Stupid Dream creates a very lush and sweeping landscape of music that allows initially for an immediate warmth to the songs while allowing subsequent listens to bring out the many elements the band utilizes in creating their sound. The guitar playing is reminiscent of many of the more exotic and trippy players of the 70s, although hardly mired in any of the connotations 70s rock brings about. Naturally one can point to a Pink Floyd sense of atmosphere throughout Porcupine Tree's music and that is fully accurate. The band often allows themselves to explore lengthy instrumental passages, creating much of their defining sound. Stupid Dream has less of those passages than previous releases that I've heard, but still meanders around here and there. Steven Wilson's vocals are very smooth and understated throughout, but he delivers melody with a true conviction that brings forth the songs well. "Pure Narcotic" is an example of how well he uses his voices in accordance with the music.

While perhaps not as pleasing overall as 1996's Signify, Stupid Dream is a wonderful record that never fails to deliver soothing, dreamlike music. The more accessible nature makes it an easy way to discover Porcupine Tree's style with songs that are entirely memorable and catchy in a subconscious way.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2001

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Lightbulb Sun

Porcupine Tree - Lightbulb Sun ©2000 Snapper Music
1. Lightbulb Sun
2. How Is Your Life Today?
3. Four Chords That Made A Million
4. Shesmovedon
5. Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled
6. The Rest Will Flow
7. Hatesong
8. Where We Would Be
9. Russia On Ice
10. Feel So Low

Continuing on in what might be considered a "radio friendly" (albeit a tongue-in-cheek estimation) format, Porcupine Tree's Lightbulb Sun is a strong follow-up to Stupid Dream, fusing a shorter song length with the band's trademark neo-prog/atmospheric rock tendencies. However ironic, some of these more conventional songs allow for a scathing observation of other, more popular British pop bands in "Four Chords That Made a Million", easily the most catchy song on the entire album. And although Porcupine Tree may have more accessibility on this release than ever before, there is still that factor of the band's unusual approach to music. The brooding, pensive nature of the band's trademark sound is quite intact, as well as the adherence to synthesizer washes and long, drawn out passages from time to time and occasional orchestration. As with earlier releases, Lightbulb Sun has more than its fair share of sounds evoking images of 70s prog music. The guitar noises range from clean acoustic pickings to distortion and wah fests of chaos, still somehow clinging to the thread of the song.

Lightbulb Sun is possibly the quickest album in Porcupine Tree's catalogue for a listener to assimilate and grasp. It is an album that resembles pop, but has much more depth and style to merely be lumped into that category. Moreover, unlike earlier Porcupine Tree releases, this is an album one can listen to in the car without being lulled into a tranquil state.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2001

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Voyage 34: The Complete Trip

Porcupine Tree - Voyage 34: The Complete Trip ©2000 Delerium Records
1. I
2. II
3. III
4. IV

Voyage 34 was originally meant as a track for Up the Downstair back around 1994. The concept of the song was to chronicle an LSD user's thirty-fourth "voyage", courtesy of the drug. Brian, whom the song encapsulates, has had thirty-three wonderful trips; however, the next one turned out to be a disastrous and profoundly disturbing foray. The lengthy, mostly instrumental song is broken up into four sections and Voyage 34: The Complete Trip is a reissued version with all four parts on one CD. This album is by far the most ambient and atmospheric of all the Porcupine Tree releases to date. The album also has a tendency to remind casual listeners of Pink Floyd, although at the band's official website, Steven Wilson claims the signature guitar line of the song was inspired by Ashra Tempel. The four phases of the song are given a neo-documentary effect courtesy of filmstrip-style narrations and voices from various LSD users characterized by the album. Voyage 34 has many sections of very calm atmospheric keyboards and synth washes, making it an experience that is truly best enjoyed through headphones and perhaps late at night. The entire disc has a very fluid nature, allowing a listener to float through the experience very comfortably. Ultimately, this is a very expansive and warm album that is quite beautiful in its execution.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/2001

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Porcupine Tree - Recordings ©2001 Snapper Music
1. Buying New Soul
2. Access Denied
3. Cure For Optimism
4. Untitled
5. Disappear
6. Ambulance Chasing
7. In Formaldehyde
8. Even Less
9. Oceans Have No Memory

Recordings is essentially a compilation of unreleased live and demo tracks from the two previous Porcupine Tree studio sessions (coalescing in Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun) as well as the occasional single. The quality that makes the whole thing rather astounding is hard to articulate in a concise sentence, but I'll give it a shot. The sound is uniform and wholly coherent, and yet entirely unlike the series of releases they were originally recorded for. So what you end up with is an incredibly wonderful atmospheric rock album that captures the band in their more meandering ambient mode, with the experimentation and depth of their earlier work combined with the warmer tones of their more recent material. None of the songs on the release (with the exception of the instantly skip-ready "Access Denied") would fit on the albums for which they were recorded, but work very well when brought together in a single collection. Many of the songs are long, with bookends of murky dissonance and pure psych rock. The songs are regularly founded on minimalist acoustic guitar, percussion, and Steve Wilson's melancholy vocal performance and introspective lyrics. If anyone in rock music knows how to deliver a subdued vocal performance that still manages to grab the listener, it's Wilson. The album lacks much of the bombast that appears in isolated spots on the albums (except for the metal riffing that appears on one brief occasion), and is completely fixated on the morose and spatially ambient quality in the Porcupine Tree sound. I can't help but be drawn into an introverted reverie when succumbing to the powerful draw of the release. Most bands would kill for an album of this quality; that it's not an album at all, but merely a collection, says a lot about Porcupine Tree.

Review by James Slone

Review date: 01/2002

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In Absentia

Porcupine Tree - In Absentia ©2002 Lava/Atlantic
1. Blackest Eyes
2. Trains
3. Lips Of Ashes
4. The Sound Of Muzak
5. Gravity Eyelids
6. Wedding Nails
7. Prodigal
8. .3
9. The Creator Has A Mastertape
10. Heartattack In A Lay By
11. Strip The Soul
12. Collapse The Light Into Earth

Much ado has been made about Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson's involvement with Opeth's Blackwater Park as producer. Many have suggested it would greatly affect the newest Porcupine Tree, which is finally here. In Absentia does indeed suggest there might have been some influence on Wilson, but mostly in helping him find the distortion knobs on his guitar amp.

In Absentia continues on with Porcupine Tree's flirtation of melding pop music stylings to a neo-progressive musical approach. Like the preceding two albums, Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun, the core of Porcupine Tree's music is your typical, hum-along song, but the band chooses to dress up their pop music with ambitious layering and flowering. In Absentia does not veer from this path. Despite the inclusion of a few passages utilizing heavier guitars, the album sticks to its guns. Between the catchier songs are soundscapes and ambient passages, which has been a trademark for Porcupine Tree essentially their entire existence. In that regard, anyone who has enjoyed the past two or three studio releases will immediately enjoy In Absentia. Moreover, Radiohead and other heady alt-rock band fans may wish to search out Porcupine Tree as a new avenue to explore. In Absentia may also be the band's instant accessible release. There isn't a lot of experimental or music of a meandering nature. Most importantly, it's one of the few Porcupine Tree releases one can play in the car without the fear of dozing off due to ethereal, soothing ambient passages.

In summation, it's doubtful that In Absentia will impress those who aren't keen to Porcupine Tree, but will continue the process of interest for those who do like the band. While not album of the year material, In Absentia is indeed enjoyable and worth searching out for all Porcupine Tree fans.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 11/2002

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Stars Die - The Delerium Years 1991-1997

Porcupine Tree - Stars Die - The Delerium Years 1991-1997 ©2002 K-Scope/Snapper
CD one:
1. Radioactive Toy
2. Nine Cats
3. And The Swallows Dance Above The Sun
4. Nostalgia Factory
5. Voyage 34 - Phase One
6. Synesthesia - Extended Version
7. Phantoms
8. Up The Downtair
9. Fadeaway
10. Rainy Taxi
CD two:
11. Stars Die
12. The Sky Moves Sideways - Phase One
13. Men Of Wood
14. Waiting
15. The Sound Of No-one Listening
16. Colourflow In Mind
17. Fuse The Sky
18. Signify II
19. Every Home Is Wired
20. Sever
21. Dark Matter

Though the cult following for Porcupine Tree has been steadily and quietly growing over past two or three years, there still are multitudes of people out there who are, at the very least, familiar with the band name and particularly bandleader Steven Wilson (who caught attention with the metal world after producing Opeth's dull Blackwater Park). However, considering the band's extensive back catalogue and various phases of stylistic endeavours, it's conceivable that newcomers may not have a good idea of where to start with this band. The good news for those folks is that the band has released an excellent compilation of their earlier years titled Stars Die - The Delerium Years 1991-1997, which covers the formative years and chronicalizes the band's development from Wilson's pet project to a full fledged band.

Complete with extensive liner notes and tons of great information, the collection is a rich goldmine both for newcomers and longtime fans. For anyone who has followed the band for any length of time, the depth of anecdotes and history in the liner book is very impressive. For newcomers, the collection allows a chance to sample the band throughout their first few years and provide more than enough chances to encourage delving into the band's catalogue. The majority of the songs are familiar for longtime fans, although care was taken to provide either new mixes, extended versions or harder to find single or EP tracks. A couple tracks are exclusive to this compilation, which should be encouraging for those who already have a large Porcupine Tree collection. Where this album succeeds is in the wonderful sequencing that gradually nudges the listener through the years and does so in a way that blends the music seamlessly. Moreover, although one might be quite familiar with the songs, regardless of the mix version, the compilation encourages fans to break out the actual older releases and give them a new, fresh spin. My own personal interest in Porcupine Tree was renewed upon first listening to this collection.

Although compilations are often extraneous and pointless, Stars Die exceeds all expectations for any listener at any point in their Porcupine Tree experience. Nothing was spared in creating this compilation and the care shows in the final product. Absolutely required for Porcupine Tree fanatics and very recommended towards those whose curiosity has been piqued by the band.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/2002

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