Sunday, 21 January 2018

TRANSIENCE by STEVEN WILSON

I was starting to defrost so I stopped to take my gloves off and there it was: an absolute gem of a CD priced at £5 stared at me from a Sainsbury’s shelf! What more can a music lover wish for? Scots have always been into their quality music so I managed to scoop the very last copy of Steven Wilson’s Transience. I placed it in my shopping trolley alongside organic veggies, tofu, miso and cat litter, feeling content.

The album was released at the end of 2015 by K-Scope (home of Porcupine Tree, Anathema, Katatonia and Ulver, to mention but a few) but wasn’t exactly hailed as a major event. Compilations are deemed more suitable for cheesy pop acts desperate to squeeze a few extra coins out of their gullible fans while…er, they’re doing their weekend shopping down the local supermarket, right? Whatever the prog elites thought of this odd marketing choice, they should have at least felt a warm flush of condescending pride, because the CD - kindly offered as a taster of Wilson’s more ‘accessible’ work - is an utter delight. 


But of course, some of you will say, eyeballs rolling: it’s Steven-bloody-Wilson, the genus behind Porcupine Tree and many other projects! True enough. For those who are not overly familiar with this artist, let me tell you, the man is one of the few true living gods of Music. Having started to experiment with strange sounds from the age of 11 (he’s now 50), he possesses superlative finesse when it comes to crafting flawless arrangements, gorgeous melody structures and matching lyrical content. Come to it, he also possesses an expressively dreamy voice that complements his works to perfection. Amongst the main influences he likes to quote we have Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Krautrock, Donna Summer (early trancey electronica) and mavericks such as XTC and The Cardiacs. Add cinema to the equation and you have a wondrous scenario. As he delved heart and soul (never wanted to start a family in order to maintain his commitment to music and art intact - definitely a kindred spirit!) in shaping his prog/psychedelic/avantgarde/ambient/drone projects, becoming one of the most celebrated guitarists and an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, he went on to inspire scores of fellow-musicians, influencing progressive metal bands such as Opeth, Obscura and Leprous. 


As the compilation name suggests, Transience presents the more ethereal, melodic side of Wilson. The album assemblage was curated by the artists himself, therefore it benefits from the perfect song choice and immaculate sequence. The material was chosen entirely from his solo catalogue spanning between 2003 and 2015 (with the exception of “Lazarus”, from the Porcupine Tree album XX: the track was re-recorded for the occasion). In total we have 14 songs whose ‘accessibility’ can be traced mainly in their length (no 15” long epics here, with the exception of the stunning “Drive Home”, which is over 7” long) and in the melodic dreaminess delivering a soothing yet dazzling sensorial experience.


Transience repeatedly hits the spot as far as effortless class and transfixing beauty are concerned. Only “Happiness III”, placed in the second part of the album, hints at a poppy flavour with a ‘happy’ chorus which raises a sudden ripple in the otherwise cohesive flow of the work. In reality here we are introduced to Wilson’s admiration for the shameless eclecticism of artists like The Cardiacs and XTC, who deliberately transfigured the face of pop music with their irony, idiosyncrasy and love of vintage psychedelia. Wilson's wonderful guitar solos, which glide with a shimmering fluidity that touches transcendence, provide superb accents for the prog fan. I also enjoyed the cool saxophone solo in “The Pin Drop”, which immediately brought Leprous and Shining (NO) to mind. Other stand-out tracks are "Postcard", "Significant Other", the darker "Insurgentes" and the gorgeous, powerful and moving "Drive Home", with its unforgettable 2013 video.


There might be a lot of you who own most of Wilson’s works and therefore feel reluctant to invest in a compilation of his ‘accessible’ work. Well, this compilation is well worth owning. It will fill 1 hour and 8” of your time with absolute pleasure, and you will feel refreshed and inspired for it. To those who don’t know Steven’s solo work, but are perhaps more familiar with his other bands, such as Porcupine Tree or Storm Corrosion (the collaboration with Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth), here’s your chance to invest a mere fiver (currently sold on Amazon for just over £5 too) in exchange for some quality, soul-nourishing moments. And for the collector, you might still be able to find the unusual triple-sided vinyl version. In either case, you'll own something ageless that will enhance your life for years to come.







"Harmony Korine", "Significant Other" and "Insurgentes" taken from "Insurgentes" (2008).
"Postcard", "Deform to Form a Star" and "Index" taken drom "Grace For Drowning" (2011).
"The Pin Drop" and "Drive Home" taken from "The Raven That Refused to Sing" (2013).
"Transience", "Happy Returns" and "Hand Cannot Erase" taken from "Hand. Cannot. Erase." (2015).
"Thank You" taken from "Cover Version" compilation (originally recorded and released as a single in 2003).

"Lazarus" backing track recorded on tour in March 2015, final studio overdubs and mix July 2015.

Do catch Steven Wilson on tour across Europe this Spring: https://www.facebook.com/StevenWilsonHQ/app/123966167614127/

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