Airbag – All Rights Removed & The Greatest Show on Earth limited edition vinyl re-issues

9 10 2020

Karisma Records are re-issuing Airbag’s All Rights Removed and The Greatest Show on Earth on November 20 2020 on limited edition vinyl, with both albums remastered for vinyl by White Willow / The Opium Cartel’s Jacob Holm-Lupo.

Airbag’s second album All Rights Removed was originally released in 2011. The 2020 remaster is released as a heavyweight double vinyl in gatefold cover, pressed on red vinyl.

The Norwegian band’s third album The Greatest Show on Earth was first released in 2013, and this 2020 heavyweight vinyl remaster is pressed on blue vinyl.

Jacob Holm-Lupo has offered a subtle and sympathetic remaster for vinyl. No brick-walling here – there is no real volume difference, just a little more punch and the synths really sparkle in this redux. This is the best these albums have ever sounded..

All Rights Removed sees the band shift their sound up a gear. The album opener is a heady mix of classic and progressive rock, with guitarist Bjørn Riis rising to the fore on most tracks.

White Walls is full of Dave Gilmour influenced guitar runs and textures, and is one of my favourite songs in the Norwegion band’s catalogue. Dim the lights and turn up the volume.

The mid-section bass, keyboard and guitar prelude before the song kicks back into full power is a joy to experience.

“Cos nothing ever stays the same…”

The tempo remains constant with The Bridge, before the space-rock of Never Coming Home (it reminds me of Signify era Porcupine Tree) leads into the atmospheric instrumental Light Them All Up.

The album closes with one of the band’s most popular tracks (in terms of 1 million Spotify streams) with the 17 and a half minute Homesick. The song is stunning and this is the best I have heard this masterpiece sound. Heading off into Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd territory in the mid-section, this is a journey you really want to take.

The Greatest Show on Earth adds a slight metal element to the band’s palette, on top of their more atmospheric layered sound from previous releases.

Redemption is a slow-burning modern prog piece, with spurts of heavy, gasoline fuelled choruses. Silence Grows moves the intensity down a couple of notches, with a powerful song that would not have sounded out of place on David Gilmour’s On An Island album. The instrumental sections sound amazing thanks to the superb Jacob Holm-Lupo vinyl master.

The Greatest Show on Earth is an album built to be heard in one sitting, and so works best in the vinyl format, when you can give it your full attention, and not break into individual tracks on streaming platforms.

There is a great use of vocal harmonies, atmosphere and restraint to build the mood on the albums second longest track, Call Me Back.

Surveillance (part 2​-​3) is the 16 minute album closer. Taking some of the mood of Porcupine Tree’s Stars Die, Surveillance (part 2​-​3) is a story of isolation and moves from an emotive, quite traditional arrangement to something darker and more experimental as it progresses.

“No need for you to be here
The comfort of my TV screen is all that I need”

All Rights Removed & The Greatest Show on Earth are limited edition releases, so if you missed out on getting these wonderful modern progressive albums on vinyl a few years ago, now is your chance. Links to buy the albums on Burning Shed and Amazon are below.

Steven Wilson – 4 ½

26 12 2015

SW_cover_4_1_2web4 ½, the new album from Steven Wilson, is released by KScope on January 22nd 2016. 4 ½ is like a super-sized, expanded EP, and acts as an interim release between 2015’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. and the next (as yet unrecorded) studio album.

4 ½ is available in multiple formats – as a single CD, digital download, vinyl and blu-ray (the blu-ray includes bonus tracks, instrumentals and the 2015 version of Lazarus).

Album opener My Book of Regrets will be familiar to fans who attended recent live dates, and first started to come together during the early Hand.Cannot.Erase. period.

The song has a myriad of twists and turns, with a nod to the past in the Time Flies referencing evolving guitar riff running throughout the track. A great bass-line drives the mid-section, and all of the musicians get a chance to really shine on My Book of Regrets, which is built from a mixture of live and studio performances.

I love that recording technology has progressed to the stage that live recordings can capture unique individual performances that can then be easily dropped into studio sessions.

I think its safe to say that 4 ½ will appeal to Porcupine Tree fans as well as those who love the material released under his own name. The album feels like Wilson is cleansing his musical palette before the next album, which is likely to be very different from his last few releases (he has recently hinted at a more electronic sound for the next release).


Year of the Plague is the album’s first instrumental track, and early on became my favourite song on 4 ½. Free from the need to follow a conventional structure with lyrics and verse-chorus, the song is simple but direct and incredibly moving. At times it reminds me a little of the mood of some later period no-man songs. It’s no secret that my favourite Wilson project is his work as no-man with Tim Bowness.

Year of the Plague is from The Raven That Refused To Sing sessions, but its clear why it was not included on that album, which had a very 70s feel and it fits perfectly in the album sequencing for 4 ½. The beautiful violin melody drifts through the song, sitting on top of one of SW’s most addictive arpeggio guitar lines. The strings are not performed by real players, but are sampled, in this case from an EastWest sample library (the violins in the only EW sample library I own – Goliath – don’t sound as realistic as this).

Year of the Plague also works well as a companion piece to Nuclear Head of an Angel from 2004’s self-released Unreleased Electronic Music Vol.1.

Happiness III dates back as far as the writing for the Deadwing album, but would not have sounded out-of-place on Hand.Cannot.Erase. Boasting an unashamedly pop chorus (reminding me a little of later period The Who / solo Pete Townsend), this song will no doubt be a highlight of the upcoming tour.

Sunday Rain Sets In harks back to the sound of Insurgentes at the beginning, but then expands into a fine instrumental with great piano and percussive guitar lines. It evokes the sights and sounds of a wet, night-time city landscape.

Vermillioncore is the album’s final instrumental. A disturbing jazzy intro leads to a discordant Chapman Stick solo from Nick Beggs, and a heavy bass and guitar end section. I’m not sure what the significance of the song title is, but Vermillioncore is nothing like Vermillion Sands from Buggle’s Adventures in Modern Recording album.

Its worth pointing out that one of the highlights of 4 ½ is that we finally witness the return of SW guitar solos, which have taken the back-seat on his recent albums.

4 ½ is bookended by two long songs. The album closes with a new version of Don’t Hate Me, a take on the song originally recorded by Porcupine Tree on Stupid Dream. The 2015 solo version is slower than the version recorded by Porcupine Tree, with the drums less to the fore in the mix, and with a wider range of layered keyboards and guitars.


The original keyboards were solely analogue, whereas this version is augmented with organ on top of the electronics.

Wilson’s vocals have obviously matured since 1999, and they work really well alongside co-vocalist for this track, Ninet Tayeb (who you might have been lucky to see bringing the audience to their feet during a stunning Routine at the Albert Hall shows in November 2015). I love the subtle use of reverb on the verse vocals on this version of Don’t Hate Me.

Theo Travis returns to deliver another stunning sax solo that works so well alongside the haunting, smokey keyboard runs from Adam Holzman, who is becoming one of my favourite keyboard players.

Die-hard PT fans may prefer the studio take they have lived with for years, but for me, this is the definitive version. Don’t hate me.

Steven Wilson – 4 ½

My Book of Regrets (9.23)
Year of the Plague (4.15)
Happiness III (4.31)
Sunday Rain Sets In (3.50)
Vermillioncore (5.09)
Don’t Hate Me (9.34)

Blu-ray exclusive bonus tracks

Lazarus (2015 recording) (3:57)
My Book Of Regrets (edit) (3:34)
Don’t Hate Me (SW vocal version) (9:34)
My Book Of Regrets (instrumental) (9:35)
Happiness III (instrumental) (4:31)
Don’t Hate Me (instrumental) (9:34)

SW_cover_4_1_2webBuy 4 ½ on Amazon

CD from Amazon

Blu-ray from Amazon

Vinyl from Amazon

Buy 4 ½ from Burning Shed

Blu-ray from Burning Shed

CD from Burning Shed

Vinyl from Burning Shed


White Willow – Storm Season (Expanded Edition)

2 01 2015

storm-seasonWhite Willow‘s best-selling album is available again, in a remastered / expanded format from Termo Records.

The 2014 expanded edition of Storm Season includes extras in the form of Headlights (previously only available on the Japanese edition of the album) and excellent demo versions of Nightside of Eden and Sally Left.

The 2014 remaster of the album really does improve the sonic quality. The drum / synth interplay on the outro of Chemical Sunset sounds amazing. So even if you already have the original version of the album, its worth picking up this definitive version.

If you are new to Storm Season, or indeed the music of White Willow, have a listen to the selected Spotify streams in this review and then head over to Amazon if you like what you hear.

Album opener Chemical Sunset sets the scene, with its mix of prog and folk-rock and a slight touch of metal. Storm Season is an album of light and shade, power and calm, and Chemical Sunset is a well-chosen opening track.

Sally Left would not sound out-of-place if played alongside any of the current prog releases. The demo version on the 2014 re-issue offers a more electronic take on the track.

Endless Science is a rare gentle piece, driven by acoustic / classical guitar and awash with vintage analogue synths and real strings.

Soulburn is the centrepiece of the album. A gothic sounding intro gives way to crunching metal guitars. The track is a duet between Finn Coren (who sounds like Peter Murphy from Bauhaus) and principal album vocalist Sylvia Erichsen. I must admit that the metal guitar riffs do detract a little on a couple of occasions in this song, but that’s probably because I was never a fan of mid-90s metal.

Insomnia is powered by organ and a deep bass-line, along with a side-helping of prog’s favourite keyboard, the mellotron. I love the vocal treatment towards the middle of the song. White Willow’s Jacob Holm-Lupo is an excellent producer, I love the way he makes his productions sound so warm and colourful. Insomnia is my favourite track on the album – have a listen below.

The title track to Storm Season would not have sounded out of place on a mid-period Mike Oldfield album (that’s a compliment, if you were wondering!).

“Lost on a raging sea, lost on a raging sea,
I am the voice to lead you home.”

Nightside Of Eden closes the original album. The heavier guitar lines on this track hark back to the early 70s rock riffs of Black Sabbath and Rainbow, more than the 90s metal scene. A wonderful riff crops up on a couple of occasions, most noticeably in the middle section, and reminds me of Blue Oyster Cult.

Take a listen to the wonderful demo version of Nightside Of Eden – if you are a fan of Porcupine Tree circa Up The Downstair / The Sky Moves Sideways, and those album’s heady mixture of psychedelia and dance, you will surely appreciate this track, as it goes off-piste towards the middle of the song.

Apparently Storm Season is the most popular White Willow album. It’s certainly a very good album, but has not quite stood the test of time (due to the metal leanings) as much as earlier releases such as Sacrament, which was also reissued in 2014.

My favourite White Willow album (and one of my favourite progressive album’s of all time) is 2011’s Terminal Twilight. If you haven’t heard Terminal Twilight, especially the beautiful Floor 67, I suggest you rectify that mistake immediately.

A taster of the next White Willow album is due in January 2015, so visit the band’s website and sign-up to their email list if you want to hear when this will be made available.

Storm Season (Expanded Edition) – Buy Storm Season at Amazon UK

Sacrament (Expanded Edition) – Buy Sacrament at Amazon UK

Terminal Twilight – Buy Terminal Twilight at Amazon

Tim Bowness – Abandoned Dancehall Dreams

11 06 2014

Tim Bowness - Abandoned Dancehall Dreams

A mere 10 years after his debut solo album, no-man / Henry Fool singer Tim Bowness releases Abandoned Dancehall Dreams on June 23rd on the Inside Out label.  And it’s a world away from his debut.

The Warm-Up Man Forever kicks the album off in style – the opening song seems to feed off the spirit of mid-80s Kate Bush, from the urgent Sat In Your Lap toms through to the Hounds of Love referencing strings. Although the pace of the song is definitely cranked up a few notches from these Bush classics – imagine the Siouxsie & the Banshees drummer Budgie pounding away in a post-punk stylee, if you will.

“Cruising the backstage, spitting feathers”

The Warm-Up Man Forever is a great opening song, and has really grown from the version performed on the no-man tour a couple of years ago. A blood-thirsty guitar solo from Michael Bearpark brings the song to it’s end.

In an alternate universe, this is the track that opens this weeks edition of Top of the Pops, pop pickers.

But that was just a phase…

Smiler At 50 slows the pace, and sets the tone of loss and regret that runs deep throughout this album.

“The girl that Dads could laugh with, a face just right for first kiss”

A beautiful, aching string refrain signals the middle section of the song, as it heads towards its unexpectedly proggy ending. Fans of Steven Wilson‘s recent albums will love this powerful, dissonant outro. The songs on this album have really been given the chance to stretch and find their own space, with longer instrumental passages that are missing from previous Bowness solo material.

Picture by Charlotte Kinson

Before you have a chance to recover, the most heartbreaking track on the album hits you. Songs Of Distant Summers is in the mould of the classic no-man ballads of years gone by. Hanging piano chords, underpinned by sweet synth layers and deep bass, with a lyric that touches on the feeling musicians sometimes experience during that intense moment of creativity.

“Sweet songs from fading summers, old friends who grew apart”

For some reason, this song reminds of the wonderful, blissed out classic Winter in July by Bomb the Bass. I remember reading an interview many moons ago, I think it was with Bernard Sumner from New Order, who said he woke up to Winter in July playing on the radio and he thought he had died in his sleep and woke up in heaven.

Whilst Songs Of Distant Summers is virtually beatless, it has that heavenly feel mixed with found-sounds buried deep in the mix, and it takes you to another place. Oh, and I’m always a sucker for any song with rhodes piano.

I’ve been living with the album for nearly six months now, and I really do believe that Songs Of Distant Summers is up there with no-man’s Truenorth as one of the finest Bowness songs.

She sees the factory buildings…

Waterfoot has shades of another Bowness vehicle, Memories of Machines, his collaboration with Giancarlo Erra from Nosound. The lyrics and music reference an industrial Northern England long since disappeared (in a similar way to the excellent Big Big Train). Emotive synths (plus more rhodes, yay) and a lovely acoustic guitar reference Steve Hackett and a little of the spirit of early Genesis to these battle-scarred ears. Waterfoot really grows after repeated plays, and it’s playfulness is a joy.

This may be controversial, but I will fight the corner for Dancing For You being on a par with some of the mid-80s Phil Collins ballads. Yep, you read that correctly. Phil Collins has always been an easy (lover) target – but In the Air Tonight, If Leaving Me Is Easy and Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away are wonderful songs. Have a listen, and let go of your prejudice.

Picture by Charlotte Kinson

Anyway, back to Bowness. The piano and 80s drum machine might reference classic Collins, but the lyrics are much more hard-hitting and direct than anything Mr Sussudio has committed to vinyl.

“She was dancing for you, and you looked away.
Dancing for you, another you, on another day”

The 70s sounding backing vocals and decaying guitar top off probably the saddest song on the album. And the sad songs say so much, don’t you know.

Smiler At 52 finishes the story from earlier in the album’s song cycle, and sadly it’s not ended well for dear old Smiler. Glitchy percussion and a nagging keyboard line underpin the story of a lonely, middle-aged Smiler and her mountain of regret.

“Far from young and not yet old.”

Looped vocals and an engaging bass-line take the song to its fade.

I Fought Against The South is the longest track on the album, and probably the biggest surprise on first listen. It’s the track on the album that really captures that live no-man feel from the recent live dates, and is almost a cousin to one of my favourite no-man songs, lighthouse.

A wonderful, loping beat and heart-wrenching strings and solo violin drive this slow-burning epic track. It’s a perfect headphone track, with great separation between instruments – listen as a dirty, scratched organ smashes into the mix 1/4 of the way through, and then disappears, taking the strings with it.

“The dream was in tatters, so what did it matter? My temper was quick but my movements were slow”

After a few seconds of near silence, the toms usher in the final, powerful instrumental section. Played loud, the fluttering cymbal work and interplay between guitar and keyboards is up there with the finest modern-day progressive music.

Too much is not enough

Normally, I Fought Against The South would be the perfect album closer, but Bowness has chosen to close the album with Beaten By Love. The oldest song on the album, this is the definitive version. A perfect post-punk bookend to the album opener, Beaten By Love is the darkest track on the album, with some fine bass work by current no-man bassist, Pete Morgan. Tim’s partner in no-man, Steven Wilson, as well as mixing the album, contributed the frankly evil-sounding guitar to the album’s menacing closing track.

“So completely, beaten by your love”

Abandoned Dancehall Dreams deserves to be heard by as wide an audience as possible. It’s almost an oddity in the modern era, a throw-back to those carefully sequenced releases from the golden era of classic albums.

Its a release that I think will eventually be considered as a career highlight. The attention to detail is evident throughout the whole package – from the range of wonderful, individual performances from musicians such as Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson), Porcupine Tree‘s Colin Edwin, Anna Phoebe and members of the no-man live band, to the album mastering by Pink Floyd engineer, Andy Jackson.

Potentially my favourite album of 2014? I thought it would be when I first heard the album back in January, and I’ve yet to hear anything released this year to make me think I was wrong.

Picture by Charlotte Kinson

Sounds of Distant Summers

The two CD version of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams contains a companion CD of alternate versions and out-takes. The wonderful Grasscut contribute a string-driven, more percussive take on Smiler at 52.

Ambient keyboard overlord Richard Barbieri (Japan / Porcupine Tree) delivers a colourful mix of Songs Of Distant Summers, seeped in the nostalgic tick of clocks, childrens toys and low, rumbling bass synth.

UXB serve up the most radical alternate mix, with the boy and girl vocals of Dancing for You brought to the fore, and the Bowness lead vocals completely stripped out. It’s almost like an electronic Swingle Singers! Please believe me when I say it works really well.

The 5 remaining tracks are out-takes from the album sessions.  The track Abandoned Dancehall Dream is a bossa-nova beat, scratchy stereogram sounding track over which Bowness croons  “the sound of dead men singing (they love you)”. It reminds me of the music of The Caretaker (think Kubrick’s The Shining), and it’s an intriguing shorter than short song, that whilst it fits the abandoned dancehall concept, sonically does not fit on the main album, but thankfully has found a home on the companion disc.

The same can be said of The Sweetest Bitter Pill – a jazzier song than any on the main album, with some lovely synth work. It featured in early album sequences but always stood out a little, and so found it’s rightful home on disc two.

The Warm-Up Man Forever (band version) sounds like early U2 fed on a diet of Icicle Works albums. It’s good to hear this early take, which sounds like my memory of how no-man performed this track on their last tour, but it’s surpassed by the main album take.

The remaining two tracks are alt-takes of Songs of Distant Summers, recorded during the early band sessions for the album. More guitar driven than the album version, they offer a different perspective, but as WUMF, the seeds cannot compare to the full-bloom.

Whilst you will probably dip into the companion album every now and then, its the main album that you will find yourself returning to time and time again. So treat yourself to a copy from one of the links below.

Order Abandoned Dancehall Dreams from Burning Shed.

Buy the CD from Amazon UK

Buy the CD on Amazon US

Visit the Tim Bowness website

Tim Bowness pictures by Charlotte Kinson

Henry Fool – Men Singing

1 03 2013

"Men Singing" coverMen Singing is the long-awaited follow-up to the band’s 2001 self-titled debut.

The 2013 line-up of the band includes new collaborators Jarrod Gosling (I Monster/Regal Worm), Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music) and classical violinist Steve Bingham and drummer Andrew Booker (both part of the current live no-man line-up).

The debut Henry Fool album was a mixture of instrumentals and songs, whereas Men Singing is a solely instrumental album, and is a much more coherent listening experience.

Men Singing was recorded over a long period of time – between 2006 and 2012, with Jarrod Gosling and Phil Manzanera adding their contributions towards the end of the recording process. Phil Manzanera adds guitar to Everyone In Sweden and Man Singing. Jarrod Gosling appears on all four tracks, contributing Mellotron, glockenspiel and the excellent album artwork.

Album opener Everyone In Sweden sets the mood, with shifting time signatures, and solos alternating between guitar, jazzy saxophone, and very distorted bass. The music shifts across genres, often two or three times in the same song, which is a great way to keep you listening, especially in the longer pieces. Some instrumental albums can be hard to listen to in one sitting, but Men Singing is certainly not background music, and the performances demand your full attention.

The vintage keyboards often give a real early to mid-70s feel to the pieces. There’s a wonderful section 7 minutes in to Everyone In Sweden, the album’s longest track, where everything breaks down, and keyboard washes give way to a mournful sax and guitar line as the piece ends.

Man Singing, which of course has (no) man singing, is a slower paced affair, and features no-man’s Tim Bowness on very angular chord/arpeggio guitar. There are hints of Adrian Belewesque guitar sounds on the album, which along with the keyboards, sometimes give a feel of Bowie‘s Berlin trilogy as well as more obvious King Crimson influences. The cut to the basics chorused guitar and strings ending works perfectly on this track.

Track 3 is the perfectly titled My Favourite Zombie Dream, which has a real feeling of dread and anticipation about it. Oscillating strings from Stephen Bennett underpin the piece, as it slowly builds to it’s climax, like a soundtrack to a yet-to-be released George A. Romero film.

The final track on Men Singing is the 13 minute plus Chic Hippo. The violin playing of Steve Bingham features heavily, and Stephen Bennett (according to the sleevenotes) is credited with Miles Davis, Mavis Riley and Terry Riley impressions. Mavis Riley? That must have been difficult to pull off – “ooh, I don’t really know”.  Apologies, no-one under 45 (or anyone outside of the UK) will get that cultural reference.

The mid-section of Chic Hippo is one of the most rewarding parts of the album. Fluttering church organ sounds give way to sax riffs from Myke Clifford that would not have sounded out of place on early Bowie or Roxy Music albums, topped off with some wonderful slide guitar from Michael Bearpark. The percussion work from Andrew Booker is another highlight of Chic Hippo.

Men Singing is a strong second album from Henry Fool, and a radical departure for Tim Bowness. Have a listen to the edits on this page, via SoundCloud and YouTube. Another indication of the quality of this album is that it was mastered by award-winning Pink Floyd sound engineer, Andy Jackson.

The album is likely to appeal to fans of mid-period Porcupine Tree as well as those intrigued by Steven Wilson‘s recent foray into more improvisational / jazz-rock influenced material. If you like albums that disturb as much as entertain, then let the men of Henry Fool sing for you.

Henry FoolMen Singing
(KSCOPE244 / 836) – March 11th, 2013 – available in vinyl and CD versions

Order Men Singing from Burning Shed

Buy Men Singing on Amazon UK

Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)

22 02 2013

The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) is the third Steven Wilson solo album, but where it differs from the previous two releases is that it was written to be performed with the musicians who make up his touring band. This gives a real cohesion to the album, which was produced by Wilson but features Alan Parsons as associate producer and recording engineer.

Steven Wilson’s albums, whether solo or with his main bands Porcupine Tree or no-man, have always been expertly produced. The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) takes it up a notch, with the best sounding Wilson release to date.

A case in point is album opener Luminol.  Devoid of vocals until nearly 5 minutes in, switching time signatures, bass-driven instrumentation and layered mellotron / piano all feature. The production allows the instruments the space to breathe, and there is no brick-wall mastering in evidence.

At times reminiscent of Yes, Luminol sets the scene for the rest of the album, which is a mixture of progressive and classic rock.

Drive Home is one of Wilson’s best songs to date. Like a modern-day Stars Die, layered harmonies, strings and acoustic guitar underpin a tale of loss and regret.

“Well love can make amends
While the darkness never ends
You’re still alone
So drive home”

Drive Home is the one track on the album that really harks back to that mid-70s LA classic rock feel, and ends with a breathtaking guitar solo from the newest member of the Wilson live band, Guthrie Govan.

The Holy Drinker is one of the darkest songs on The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories).  Featuring some wonderful interplay between Theo Travis and Adam Holzman, the first few minutes of the song wouldn’t sound out of place on Wilson’s previous album, Grace for Drowning.  But it then mutates into a mid-70’s classic rock Deep Purple / Pete  Townshend / Yes hybrid. Speeding up and slowing down, crossing genres at will, it’s clear that playing together over recent tours has really helped this group of musicians gel and become much more than a backing band.

Photo by Naki Kouyioumtzi

The subject matter for the album’s lyrics also help make the album a complete piece, like in those distant days when album’s were made to be heard in one sitting, not split into easily digestible iPod-friendly chunks. Drawing on inspiration from 19th Century ghost and supernatural writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, the lyrics touch on subjects such as the spirit of a busker who continues to play (badly) long after his body departs this earth (Luminol) and a man who is haunted by the ghost of his wife whose body he buried under the floorboards (The Watchmaker).

The Pin Drop has a real Martin Grech feel about the arrangement, and contains the wonderful line, that sums up the theme of the album:

“I have not lived and loved enough”

It’s the shortest track on the album, and one of the most immediate and powerful. Lyrically almost a companion piece to Porcupine Tree’s Heartattack in a Lay By, both sets of lyrics touch on regret and sadness as someone’s life reaches it’s premature end.

The Pin Drop is one of the tracks that I keep coming back to and one which would make a fine single – although do singles exist anymore?

The Watchmaker will probably appeal most to fans who lean towards progressive rock.  A slowly building pastoral sounding arrangement for the first quarter of the song, before the organs and percussion up the pace.  The mighty Nick Beggs really shines on this track.

Photo by Naki Kouyioumtzis

The Raven That Refused to Sing is the album closer, and what a beautiful way to end the journey.  Starting off like a track from Storm Corrosion, before developing into the song that will surely be a staple of Wilson’s live shows for many years to come.

I hear hints of Radiohead and Sigur Ros in the arrangement, but also a flavour of Wilson’s first solo release Insurgentes. It’s an incredibly moving song that hits you really hard the more you hear it.

“Sing to me raven
I miss her so much
Sing to me Lily
I miss you so much”

If you don’t shed a tear as the song reaches it’s climax, you have no heart, no soul, and you should leave my blog now!

The deluxe version of this album includes a CD of demo versions of all the songs – obviously Steven Wilson demos are the quality of most people’s finished albums, but they offer a fascinating insight into the albums development and show what an impact the musicians and Alan Parsons made to the finished release.

Album of the year already? It depends on what else comes out over the next 10 months, but I think it’s safe to say that The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) will be on my list come December 2013. A Wilson career best?  Yes, it’s up there with no-man‘s Together We’re Stranger for me, and is already shaping up to be my favourite Wilson solo release.

The only negative for me (which I touched upon in my Grace for Drowning review) is that the freedom Wilson seems to be really enjoying in his solo work means I really don’t see Porcupine Tree reconvening anytime soon.  I hope I’m wrong, as Porcupine Tree are one of my favourite bands, but with albums of this quality, the blow is somewhat lessened.

Watch the video for The Raven That Refused To Sing:

The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) is released by Kscope on 25 Feb 2013.

You can buy The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) in various formats, including vinyl, from the official Steven Wilson store on Burning Shed.

Buy The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) CD on Amazon UK

Buy The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) Bluray on Amazon UK

Storm Corrosion

5 05 2012

Storm Corrosion is the collaboration between no-man / Porcupine Tree‘s Steven Wilson and Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth.

Their self-titled album is released on Roadrunner, and has been described as being part of a trilogy (Opeth’s Heritage and Wilson’s Grace for Drowning being the other two albums).

Stripped of the metal flavouring of some of the duo’s work in their main bands over recent years, Storm Corrosion is a natural progression from both Heritage and Grace for Drowning.

The heavy guitars may not be in evidence, but the music remains dark, atmospheric and at times almost sounds like the soundtrack to a twisted, avant-garde European film that’s yet to be made.

Opener Drag Ropes has hints of the minimalism of no-man’s together we’re stranger album in the end section (especially with the light-touch percussion), and features some delicious string arrangements by Dave Stewart. The vocals are shared between Åkerfeldt and Wilson, with Åkerfeldt taking the lead for most of the song.

“I was immortal but I am your friend
To stay and be beside you”

The album’s title track takes it’s rhythm from the backing of gentle rain and distant thunder, and features Wilson on lead vocals. It’s a song of two halves – the gentle, mostly acoustic opening section soon mutates into a twisted, clattering diversion, before the strings and guitar return for the end of the song.

“Someone is calling her shorewards”

Elements of the real world seep into some of the songs – the weather in the title track, laughter in Hag, and on several occasions, you can hear the musician’s react to their performance, which displays a real sense of spontaneity in these recordings.

Hag is a mellotron and piano heavy piece, and features some off-kilter drums from Gavin Harrison, and a nagging bass-line.

Happy is the albums shortest track, and lyrically, doesn’t live up to it’s name! Like most of the tracks on the album, Happy starts off fairly serene, lulling you into a false sense of security, before disturbing strings usher in a darker section.

Storm Corrosion January 2012. Picture Naki Kouyioumtzis © 2012

As you would expect from a Wilson / Åkerfeldt collaboration, the production and mix is immaculate. Mastered at a sympathetic level, highs and lows appear organic and are given space to breathe and hit you on an emotional level, which does not really happen with the current trend for brickwall, in your face mastering.

Lock Howl is an instrumental track, with one of the guitar riffs reminding me of a late 60s Pretty Things track, that I can’t quite put my finger on.  Give me time, I’ll identify it!

Lock Howl shifts and changes several times during it’s 6 minute stay, sometimes exuding a middle-Eastern flavour and again making use of a poweful, emotive string arrangement.

The final (and longest) track on the album is Ljudet Innan, featuring a fine falsetto lead vocal from Åkerfeld in the first section. After a few listens (the CD only arrived from Burning Shed today), this is shaping up to be my personal favourite track on the album. Its a classic album closer, and the middle section (with some fine guitar-work from Åkerfeldt) lifts your mood after the much darker tracks that came before.

The title in English is “ancient music” which fits the song perfectly. The mid-section’s spacey, choral synths give way to a bluesey end section, with truenorth (no-man) influenced scattering percussion, before passing the lead vocal baton back to Wilson. Both Åkerfeld and Wilson’s reverb-heavy vocals on this track tread new ground, displaying an almost soulful feel.

Whilst I think Storm Corrosion will appeal to fans of later Opeth and Porcupine Tree, the album thankfully has its own unique identity. An Opeth / Porcupine Tree hybrid would have been a safe option, and probably a disappointment. This multi-layered, pastoral flavoured debut release from Storm Corrosion offers hope for further albums from the duo, and reveals new depths on repeated listens.

Buy Storm Corrosion (Special Edition) on Amazon

Buy Storm Corrosion (CD) on Amazon

Visit the Storm Corrosion website

no-man – Love and Endings

9 04 2012

Love and Endings is a recording of  no-man‘s concert at the Leamington Spa Assembly in October 2011, as part of the record label Burning Shed’s 10th anniversary celebrations.

For the those not yet familiar with no-man, they are a British band comprising Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree). Formed in 1987, no-man have produced a fine back-catalogue of work, and boast guest appearances from the likes of King Crimson‘s Robert Fripp and Pat Mastelotto, Porcupine Tree’s Colin Edwin, Richard Barbieri and Gavin Harrison, jazz musicians Theo Travis and Ian Carr, electronic artists Scanner and Faultline, Bruce Kaphan (American Music Club) and Dave Stewart (Egg/Hatfield & The North). Former members of 80s band JapanSteve Jansen, Richard Barbieri & Mick Karn, toured and recorded with the band in the early 1990s.

Since the early 1990s, the band have existed mainly as a studio outfit, rarely venturing into the live arena, so no-man live shows are hugely anticipated events. As well as capturing one of the finest no-man live performances, Love and Endings is also a perfect introduction to the band’s music for the uninitiated. For people already familiar with the band’s music, Love and Endings may come as a surprise, as the live incarnation of the band is a powerful beast.

Recent studio releases from no-man have included twisted, dark electronica (the Wild Opera album), fragile, semi-acoustic / minimalist songs with stark lyrics (Together We’re Stranger) through to their most organic release in 2008’s Schoolyard Ghosts. Recent no-man live appearances, though few and far between, hint at a new direction, and one that will appeal to fans of Steven Wilson’s work in Porcupine Tree.

Opening track my revenge on seattle is very electronic, awash with percussive synths in it’s studio incarnation, but the Love and Endings live version is stripped back, with deep chorused bass, textured guitar and mournful violin. The joyous middle section showcases some wonderful interplay between the musicians and powerful tom / cymbal work from drummer Andrew Booker.

“maybe there’s more to life
than just righting wrongs
maybe not”

time travel in texas is another song from the mid-90’s Wild Opera album, with the 2011 live version losing it’s scratchy Portishead trip-hop atmosphere, mutating into a brooding, twin-guitar heavy assault.

all the blue changes is a more percussive take on the track that originally appeared on 2003’s Together We’re Stranger album. One of the highlights of the live set, with my favourite Bowness vocal on the album and some fine layered keyboards from Stephen Bennett.

“giving up on beautiful
and making peace with strange,
all the blue changes rearranged”

The song shifts up a couple of gears with some brutal Wilson guitar and pounding Booker drums around 3/4 of the way through, sounding like Sigur Rós on steroids or the wall of noise of Mono, I swear you can hear the audience gasp before applauding at the end!

The formerly sample-driven pretty genius is reinvented as a much looser song on love and endings, but remains true to the spirit of the original version, with some beautiful violin work by Steve Bingham, and a great sloping back-beat from Messrs Morgan and Booker.

lighthouse is my favourite no-man song, and the love and endings live version does not disappoint. It’s no-man’s most progressive sounding track, and although originally written in the early 1990s, has not aged at all. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the section of the song from 4:08 onwards is one of my favourite pieces of music of all time. It never fails to move me.

Have a listen to the Love and Endings version of lighthouse, taken from the official no-man SoundCloud, below.

“the love and endings,
the almost starts”

beaten by love is a previously unreleased no-man track, written in 1987 and performed for the first time at this show. The track displays hints of some of the darker This Mortal Coil tracks mixed with a healthy dose of Siouxsie & the Banshees, and is unlike any recent no-man material.

Following the darkest track on the album with one of the most uplifting no-man songs, wherever there is light,  works well, and shows the range in singer Tim Bowness’s vocals (from beaten by love‘s growl to the soft, breathy croon on this emotive and deeply personal song).

“Jane passes through the crowds
outside the mercury lounge.
she loves the city sounds.
she feels that she’s been found.”

The live version of mixtaped is a lot looser than the Schoolyard Ghosts studio take, with some inventive percussive touches, and a wonderful mixture of textures and distorted, heavy guitar from Wilson and Bearpark, and works well as a set closer.

“you’d kill for that feeling once again”

The final track on the album was the encore on the evening, things change. The highlight of the live version of this track has always been the electric violin solo that is an integral part of the powerful outro. The version on Love and Endings is very different from previous live outings, watch the filmed version on the accompanying DVD to appreciate the performance fully.

“you walk upon the dirt and chocolate wrappers, 
leaving me behind you.”

Love and Endings DVD

Love and Endings also comes with a DVD of the whole performance. The Love and Endings DVD is a very different concert film to the previous live no-man DVD, 2009’s mixtaped, which was a multi-camera shoot.

The HD footage shot by Dion Johnson (of Signify films) captures the performance and the mood of the show perfectly on just two cameras. It was filmed from the front-row of the audience, so you get a real feeling of being in the crowd, and this gives a different perspective to most live films.

The mixtaped DVD does offer a better variety of shots, and more close-ups of individual band members, features a full-length concert and an excellent no-man documentary, so perhaps should not be compared to the DVD that comes with Love and Endings. The Love and Endings film, although it has a few awkward zooms and camera angles that might not normally be kept in an official release, does capture a band performance that was better than the one on the previous DVD, and so is definitely a worthwhile addition to the no-man discography.

The concert was not filmed with a DVD release in mind but the footage came out better than was expected, and the ‘guerilla style’  does give the recording its own, unique identity and captures the performance perfectly, and so offers good value for money as an added extra.

The extra content on the DVD is a photo gallery – with an instrumental version of the live version of mixtaped as background music.

Watch the promotional video for the album / DVD below.

Love and Endings sees no-man’s core duo of Tim Bowness (vocals) and Steven Wilson (guitar) joined by classical violinist Steve Bingham and regular collaborators Michael Bearpark (guitar), Andrew Booker (drums & backing vocals), Stephen Bennett (keyboards) and Pete Morgan (bass).


my revenge on seattle (6.02)
time travel in texas (4.51)
all the blue changes (6.10)
pretty genius (3.58)
lighthouse (8.16)
beaten by love (3.58)
wherever there is light (5.09)
mixtaped (9.32)
things change (8.24)

The Love and Endings CD / DVD is available from The Burning Shed.

For more information on no-man, visit the no-man website, like no-man on Facebook and follow no-man on Twitter.

The pictures of Tim Bowness & Steven Wilson courtesy of Charlotte Kinson.

Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning

8 10 2011

Grace for DrowningGrace For Drowning is the second solo album from Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree / no-man). Whilst his debut release, Insurgentes (2008) seemed to draw inspiration from the post-Punk era, Grace For Drowning has a wider palette of sounds, and harks back to the late 60’s, early 70’s for inspiration, especially in drawing influence from film scores (Belle De Jour ) and some of the more jazz-rock experiments (Remainder the Black Dog).

The album is split into two suites (three on the limited edition). The opening title track sets the scene, a lyricless harmony over piano and hanging notes.  Sectarian riffs on buzzsaw acoustic and electric guitar, and features an appearance by Nick Beggs (who will be part of the touring band) on bass / chapman stick , some wild sax from long-time collaborator Theo Travis, and powerful, at times jazz-tinged, percussion from drummer Nic France.

Then my favourite part of the whole album – the trilogy of songs beginning with Deform to Form a Star.  There is a real mid-1970’s feel to the arrangement of this song – which harks back to a bygone era, and could have easily have fallen off a Steely Dan or Randy Newman album, or maybe The Strawbs Bursting At The SeamsDeform… also utilises the delicious Stars Die era harmonies long missing from recent Porcupine Tree albums.

The production has always been an important part of SW’s work, as important as individual musician’s performances and Grace For Drowning delivers one of my favourite Wilson productions (time will tell, but possibly on a par with my previous favourite production on no-man’s Returning Jesus). With no traces of metal to be heard on the album (the heavier passages are often powered by acoustic guitar and keyboards) there is a real sense of space, so key passages and moments can be emphasised with subtlety, and No Part Of Me, featuring a wonderful, emotive string section, fluid bass from Trey Gunn and spikey touch guitar from Markus Reuter, perfectly highlights how the album can switch from light to dark in an instant.

no part of me live – from the official Steven Wilson Soundcloud page

iPhone / iPad version

And then there’s Postcard.  Fast becoming my favourite song of 2011, this track is by far the most accessible on the album, and is deserving of its release as a download single. Hopefully it will lead to a wider audience for the album, outside of the usual Porcupine Tree / progressive audience.

“I’m lame and self-obsessed, that I will concede”.

Simply executed, and with such a sad and lonely lyric, Postcard ends with haunting choral vocals from Synergy (who have worked with Steve Reich in the past).

“All that matters disappeared when I lost you.”

Remainder The Black Dog, featuring Steve Hackett, ends the first disc and sets the mood for the rest of the material, which is much darker in tone.  Awash with Rhodes keyboards fills, and shifting time signatures, this is probably the only track that would not sound out of place on a Porcupine Tree album.

After the French-tinged lightness of Belle De Jour, one of the most disturbing songs on the album is Index, which apparently draws inspiration from the 1960’s John Fowles novel, The Collector, a story that inspired tracks from The Jam (The Butterfly Collector) and Nine Inch Nails among others.  SW affects a strange accent on certain words on this track, sounding almost like an old fashioned London accent, which presumably ties in with the books content.  The song ends with a vocoderised mantra laid over a powerful string and drums outro, leading into the equally dark Track One, which I read online might be  inspired lyrically by the Swedish Eriksson sisters.  The darkness of the song gives way to a simple, moving ending, of acoustic guitar and minimal piano topped by a Gilmouresque lead guitar solo.

The longest track on the album, at over 23 minutes is Raider II, which has some of it’s riffs referenced in other tracks earlier in the album, and during the first vocal section really reminds me of the underrated Martin Grech Unholy album from a few years ago. It’s a constantly shifting beast of a track, and even at 23 minutes, does not overstay it’s welcome.  At times Raider II hints at 70’s jazz-rock, of the kind performed by Colosseum or Mahavishnu Orchestra, as much as it pays homage to past progressive giants such as Yes or Caravan. Raider II is one of the tracks were Wilson’s lack of compression/ limiters in the mastering stage really pays off, as the dynamics in some of the quietest parts are as powerful as when the track is at its most frenetic and chaotic.  The track ends on a distorted bass solo and heads off into PT territory for a while as it arrives at its sinister jazz conclusion, like a long-lost outtake from a David Lynch film.  I thought it was fitting that the longest track on Grace for Drowning has the longest section of this review! I hope you don’t mind.  Have a listen to an edit of the track towards the bottom of this page.

Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye closes the album, as one of the more organic songs on Grace for Drowning, with little in the way of electronics, distortion or jazz inflections in the first half of the song.  The familiar trademark mellotrons underpine a yearning lyric…

“But you’re lost to me, like dust I have cleared from my eye.”

As the song breaks down into a searingly bright ambient coda after the “Breathe in now… breathe out now…”  lyric you get a real feeling of serenity that is a fitting end to the album.

Grace For Drowning is an ambitious and perfectly sequenced album, with fine accompanying artwork (especially as part of the deluxe special edition) from multi-media artist Lasse Hoile and I’m looking forward to seeing the London date on SW’s first solo tour (where apparently Lasse’s visual’s will feature as part of the stage show).  The only question after immersing myself in this album for the past week or so is, where will Wilson go next when Porcupine Tree reconvene sometime next year?  Grace for Drowning will be a hard act to follow.

Stream an edit of Raider II

iPhone / iPad users listen here

Vol 1 – Deform to Form a Star

Grace for Drowning
Deform to Form a Star
No Part of Me
Raider Prelude
Remainder the Black Dog

Vol 2 – Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye

Belle De Jour
Track One
Raider II
Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye

Buy Grace for Drowning at Amazon UK
Buy Grace for Drowning at Amazon US
Buy the Postcard mp3 single (with exclusive tracks) from Amazon UK

Steven Wilson HQ  

no-man – mixtaped / returning

29 11 2009

is no-man’s first DVD, and it serves as an excellent introduction to the band once described as “Britain’s most underrated sorrowful sonic architects”, as well as offering much for the long-term fan.

The double DVD comes in two parts. DVD one is mixtaped, which is the whole recording of no-man’s London show from 2008 (the band’s first full live performance in 15 years), plus a live photo gallery.

The second DVD is titled returning, which contains an 85 minute documentary, the complete videos for several no-man songs, a no-man chronology and deleted scenes.

disc one – mixtaped

Wilson, Bowness & Bingham

One thing that really stands out on the live DVD (as it did at the concert) is that no-man live are a very different beast to the studio incarnation.

The 2008 European shows surprised many with the power behind some of the songs. time travel in texas from this DVD is a prime example. The studio version (from 1996’s wild opera) is from the trip-hop era, and is dark and glitchy. The 2008 live version keeps the main arrangement but adds real muscle to the performance.

all the blue changes is one of the stand-out performances on this DVD. A slow-building crescendo, the song includes some wonderful interplay between guitarists Michael Bearpark and Steven Wilson. 

no-man live on the "mixtaped" DVD

days in the trees is a re-invention of one of the more well known no-man songs. Whilst it still keeps the spirit of the original song intact, this classic song, served up without the break-beats, and performed by this 2008 version of no-man, had a fresh new momentum.

lighthouse, from 2001’s returning jesus album, stayed faithful to the studio recording, and seemed to be a definite highlight for the audience on the night.

In fact, this performance reminded me why lighthouse is my most-played no-man track, and why the final section of the song is one of my favourite pieces of music ever. The guitar / violin interplay and subtle mood changes within in this performance are so moving.

A wonderful, slide-guitar infused take on carolina skeletons follows, and the atmospheric returning jesus is performed with a real lightness of touch.

The mixtaped DVD ends with two flowermouth tracks. things change features a guest performance from former no-man member Ben Coleman, who gives a blistering performance on electric violin. The concert ends with the beautiful watching over me.

Ben Coleman guests on "things change"

The clarity of sound on this DVD, especially if played on a 5.1 system, is amazing. There is wonderful separation between the instruments, and tracks such as returning jesus, lighthouse and all the blue changes raise the bar on what a live DVD should sound like. The picture quality on the live disc is sharp and the colours are vibrant.

The detail is such that you can read the set-list on Stephen Bennett’s Mac that shows that the early no-man track housekeeping was to have been the last song in the set. In the end, this song was only played on the German date, and an audio only soundboard recording of this performance plays whilst the picture gallery is displayed on the mixtaped DVD.

The Director, Richard Smith, deserves special mention for the way the live disc is presented. It’s free of un-necessary quirky / gimmicky fade-ins and camera tricks.  As someone who was at the concert, I feel that mixtaped serves as an honest and accurate reminder of that special evening.  For those who were not lucky enough to see the live show, and are maybe new to the bands music, this DVD is a perfect introduction to the music of no-man.

DVD tracklist:

only rain / time travel in texas / all sweet things / pretty genius
all the blue changes / truenorth / wherever there is light /
days in the trees (version) / lighthouse / carolina skeletons /
returning jesus / mixtaped / things change /watching over me

Oh, and before anyone pulls me up on the lack of capitals in the song titles, no-man are a band best experienced in lower-case, always.

disc two – returning

All too often, documentaries are tagged onto DVD’s merely as extras, and they often consist of a few soundbites tagged onto clips of the main feature. This is not the case with returning. Producer / Director Richard Smith has put together a feature that could have easily been issued as a standalone disc.

Steven & Tim in nomansland

The 85 minute documentary features contributions from all previous members of no-man, as well as collaborators such as current live band members and the man responsible for the bands iconic artwork, designer Carl Glover.

The most revealing parts of returning come from seeing Bowness & Wilson working together in the studio and from some of the painfully honest comments about the background to certain key no-man albums.

One particularly poignant section is where the departure of Ben Coleman is discussed, from Ben’s perspective as well as from Tim & Steven’s. The wounds still seem to be raw, which make Ben’s appearance in the live show particularly touching.

The only disappointment with the documentary is that the bands’s former label One Little Indian declined to take part, and that some no-man material could not be used in the documentary (wild opera‘s music had to be replaced by demo versions).

The new video for "back when you were beautiful"

The whole history of the band is covered, from the early days (including clips of a key 1989 gig) through to the recent schoolyard ghosts album. The collaboration with former Japan / Rain Tree Crow members Jansen, Barbieri & Karn is also covered, along with clips of videos and TV appearances from various points in the band’s history.

Disc two also includes the complete videos for several no-man songs, including a wonderful newly commissioned animated film for back when you were beautiful.

So, if you come to no-man as a curious outsider who is maybe a fan of Steven’s other band, Porcupine Tree, or as a long-time admirer, the mixtaped DVD is a must-have purchase, and one that stands up to repeated viewings.

View the mixtaped trailer:

Buy mixtaped at Amazon UK
Buy mixtaped at The Burning Shed

Visit the no-man website

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