Friday, September 19, 2014

Music Review - Porcupine Tree - Signify

Sometimes you love an album and dig back into their catalog and find gold. Other times the music just sits there lit congealed gravy. Totally loved In Absentia... still do! This one, though, is just meh.

After drooling profusely over Porcupine Tree’s recent In Absentia, an album I highly recommend for everyone who would not be caught dead with a Jimmy Buffet record, I decided to do a bit of disco-graphic backtracking. Fortunately, their 1996 album, Signify, has just been re-released, thus allowing for my purchase to be counted as an expense against my vast whatzup earnings!

Signify signifies (sorry about that) a change from Porcupine Tree being a lone fellow, Steve Wilson, to a real, full, working band. While I can’t tell you about the solo years, this release clearly shows the potential and direction of a band that would one day release the darkly disturbed In Absentia.

The album opens with a 50s-sounding sample (which are used sparingly throughout between and within tracks), inviting the listener to “kick your shoes off … and join us in enjoying some very quiet and relaxing music.” The energetic instrumental title track then commences with a restrained metal-proggish guitar riff and lots of strange solos made by torturing unknown instruments with God-forsaken devices. The intoxicatingly depressing “Sleep of No Dreaming” begins with tenuous organs and the lyrics “At the age of sixteen / I grew out of hope.” The song further opens into a nostalgic psych-rock song with instant appeal. “Intermediate Jesus” is another spacey instrumental with a mesmerizing Barrett-era-Pink Floyd wash of guitar tones centered around a repeating bass line that had me thinking “Careful With That Axe, Eugene.” “Light Mass Prayers” is indeed a voiceless mass, but its dark, ambient, creepy moanings are anything but light.

Both “Darkmatter” and “Every Home Is Wired” are comatose songs, the former with airy and emotional guitar leads, the latter with spooky slide guitar parts destined to haunt your head. “Sever” is heavy and dark, nearly atonal, sounding almost like a warning from the grave to the living with frightening vocal effects and experimental overdubs cascading in from the great beyond. My personal favorite track is “Waiting phase one,” a prodding yet mellow song based on an achingly fragile vocal melody that blossoms with harmonies as the song progresses. The lead solo on this song easily equals David Gilmour in his prime.

By borrowing from the stylings of ambient, classic rock, trance, psychedelic, metal, and prog, Porcupine Tree created a dark, experimental, spacey sequel to Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. The multi-dimensional production and skilled song-crafting make this an album that grows with each listen, quickly making it clear why this unknown classic was re-released in the hopes of it finding a wider audience.

Originally published 2003 in WhatzUp.

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