Monday, January 06, 2014

Albums of 2013 Part 1 - The Raven That Refused To Sing

Those of you that connect with me on social media will know that I put together a list of my albums of 2013.

If you do connect with me there, or here, or in real life, you will know of my near obsession with Progressive rock in all it's forms. You will be unsurprised to see a lot of prog in this list! It has been a spectacular year for the progressive genre in all it's breadth and this list is a small taste of some of things that I fell in love with this year.  I could have, and perhaps should have included Elbow 'Live From Jodrell Bank', Anathema 'Universal'Big Big Train 'English Electric: Full Power' or Omnium Gatherum 'Beyond' but they reached my ears too late to make this year's list:

Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing

The Fierce and the Dead - Spooky Action 
Days Between Stations - In Extremis 
Haken - The Mountain (I have blogged about this album already here.)
Sanguine Hum - The Weight of the World
Kairos Quartet - Everything We Hold
Leprous - Coal
Sound of Contact - Dimensionaut
Anton Johannson - Galahad Suite
Lifesigns - s/t

The albums were listed in no specific order of preference or priority but more as they came to mind. I decided to flesh out the list as a blog post with, I hope, a clip and a little bit of detail.

1. Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing

As a long term fan of The Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson's prog outfit (now on ice apparently) I was slow to pick up on his solo stuff. I think I was initially wary mostly because I was aware of the prolific nature of his output over many genres and his diverse musical tastes (lists of which he publishes on his own website) and my love of PT's developing sound.

I skipped over Insurgents and only really joined the fun with Grace For Drowning, a complex and diverse album, tinged with jazz and a nod to the 70's for prog influence. This album was far from a homage to a former era, but one which used it as a springboard for new and fresh music. I saw the second leg of the tour in the UK which still stands as one of the finest live events of my life.  Whatever came next would have much to live up to.

And it did.

It's hard to capture in these early days of 2014 what The Raven That Refused To Sing did for me musically, especially as it came out so comparatively early in 2013, and so rather set the tone for the year, but also means that I have lived with the album for a very long time now.

Backed by a stunning band of Nick Beggs (Bass and backing vocals), Theo Travis (flute and sax), Adam Holzman (keyboards), Gutthrie Govan (guitars) it'll quickly become clear that the recipe for a musical delicacy is in the proverbial pot. So to the songs.

'Luminol' grooves and kicks and sparks like a musical foundry and then wanders into lush almost pastoral fields, sidestepping into what feels like should be a monolithic cathedral with their prog loving choir on hand, and back again.

'Drive Home' opens with what musically feels like Sunday morning for the non church-going childless - warm, secure, happy conjuring sunlight which feels odd bearing in mind the sadness of the lyrics. This juxtaposition of emotion is captured magnificently by the much lauded guitar solo by Guthrie Govan towards the song's end. Spellbinding stuff.

'The Holy Drinker' didn't make sense to me initially until I heard it live. It opens with a band at the height of their musical game - soloing across the instruments, tight riffs, no spare fat. Angular. Amazing. And then it lurches into basically what feels like Steve Wilson playing a fairly basic rock song. Don't misunderstand, it's middle is still some of the best music of the year, but... At it's heart though lies an astonishing Holzman/Govan/Wilson/Beggs riff which gets reprised at the end of the track which I defy you not to nod your head along to!

'Pin Drop' is simply B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L. Guitars, vocal harmonies, all building to a joyful blast of a sax solo from Theo Travis. The middle section has a drama and urgency to it unsurpassed anywhere else on the album in my opinion.

'The Watchmaker' is above for you to enjoy.

'The Raven That Refused To Sing' is mournful and moving and has a video that captures the ambience beautifully. Moody piano, lush strings and more urgent guitar work lead us into a song about love and loss that will, for me, remain unsurpassed.

All in all, TRTRTS builds on and above anything else that Steven Wilson has recorded to date. It won't be for everyone, and I wouldn't say that Steven Wilson is the face of modern prog, but he's certainly vying for that crown and enjoying himself as he goes.

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