Porcupine Tree – Lazarus

September 19, 2009

Today’s MSMOTD

Porcupine Tree – Lazarus (buy this song)

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And through the whirling sentry drones of academic responsibility, guns blazing and engines a-fire, erupts the newest MSMOTD: the mighty Porcupine Tree!  Leaving assignments, readings and constructive musings as so much burning wreckage in its wake, it streaks into the sky and bursts into a light so dark that shadows glow and everything else is festooned with silly scarves, surpassed in silliness only by these first few sentences.  When everything you read is about cost-benefit analysis, decision curves, marginal costs, associated graphs and copious literature on why none of that matters because just look at the world today we are in big trouble ha ha Marx knew it all along, other creative ventures tend to be imbued with an additional dose of absurdity to compensate (though some might convincingly claim that said readings are similarly fraught with absurdity).

Porcupine Tree is an uncommon band in that they defy easy categorization, and yet are immediately accessible (unlike many other complex cross-genre outfits).  They occupy a unique middle-space that floats equidistant from Pink Floyd, Coldplay, Radiohead and Opeth (yes, that Opeth), taking the good from each and melding those influences into a compelling new sound.  Actually, I should be careful with the word “influences”, as Porcupine Tree has been around longer than at least 2 of those.  It began as a solo project for British songwriter Steve Wilson, and continues to mainly be The Steve Wilson Band, but now has actual consistent band members rather than merely sessional musicians who just help out on tour.  Their music is typically described as “Progressive Rock”, which immediately scares lots of listeners away with visions of capes, silly hats (or scarves) and aimless 28-minute songs.   Porcupine Tree has none of these (well, the occasional 28 minute song aside) and instead produces tight, pleasing, focused music which also just happens to shift from spacey ambience to dreamy piano-pop, folk rock, alternative and occasionally on to thrashy metal ala Tool, Opeth or Dream Theater.  Steve Wilson himself really dislikes the term “Progressive”, and though the band has often been called “the new Pink Floyd”, he would prefer they be called “the old Porcupine Tree”, haha.  Above the always tasteful and meticulously produced musical arrangements floats Steve Wilson’s voice -> soft, dreamy, vulnerable and yet passionate, evocative and powerful at the same time.  They’ve released nine studio albums, with a tenth due next week.  Their latest, 2007′s “Fear of a Blank Planet” was nominated for the grammy for Best Surround Sound Album, which I didn’t even know was a grammy category!  Really, BT’s “This Binary Universe” should just win that award every year until further notice.

I actually discovered Porcupine Tree through Wilson’s collaborations with Opeth.  He helped produce their seminal album “Blackwater Park”, along with “Damnation” and “Deliverance”.  He also provided backing vocals, guitars and keyboards to those albums.  Mikael Akerfeldt, Opeth’s lead, has also contributed to various Porcupine Tree recordings.  As a result of this cross pollination, so to speak, Opeth’s music has gotten smoother and richer, while Porcupine Tree’s has gotten heavier.  Anyways, I’ve tried to represent the breadth of Porcupine Tree’s music here, so if you don’t dig the MSMOTD, try one of the other tunes!  In fact, here’s a guide:  If you’re a huge Coldplay fan, go directly to Collapse Light Into Earth at the bottom.  If you’re into Radiohead or the Beach Boys (haha), then check out Heartattack In A Layby, also at the bottom of the post.  Pink Floyd fans should watch the live video performance of Arriving Somewhere But Not Here, as should fans of Tool/Opeth as it showcases their metal chops alongside the dreamy Floydian sonicscapes and melodies.

Here are the PT guys in... a camouflaged bunker?  A tree-walled cafe?  Steve Wilson is the long haired gent, second from the right.

Here are the PT guys in... a camouflaged bunker? A tree-walled cafe? Steve Wilson is the long haired gent, second from the right.

Porcupine Tree purists will probably kill me for choosing Lazarus, from 2005′s “Deadwing”, as the MSMOTD, but I don’t care!  It may not be the most representative, but it is a gorgeous song – one of my favourites – and did fairly well as a radio single!  I think I even heard it once or twice on a local station, which was quite shocking.  I think many die-hard fans don’t like this song, as it’s a bit more bland than their regular outings, but I absolutely love the vocal melody, the cascading piano lines and especially especially the slide/steel guitar.  I have a completely irrational love for that sort of guitar performance, and since I don’t listen to country, I don’t get my fix nearly often enough.  I drive around and sing along with this song at the top of my lungs (though in a restrained, delicate manner, just like Steve of course).  My favourite part is probably as the melody swells up mid-song at 2:35 just before the crest, when the vocals take a break and are replaced by a sparkling dulcimer (?) melody that fills in the melodic/rhythmic gaps between the other instruments just perfectly.  Steve Wilson’s vocal harmonies on this track really take it to another level of greatness as well.  Definitely an amazing song!

(Porcupine Tree performing Arriving Somewhere But Not Here, from 2005′s “Deadwing”)

Arriving Somewhere But Not Here is a fantastic example of Porcupine Tree’s breadth of style.  The video also showcases their phenomenal live performances.  This is beautiful music, played by a band with unusual talent and musicality.  It’s trippy, cerebral and intense, but lovely and entrancing nonetheless.  This recalls their earlier, more experimental work, but with Wilson’s more recent growth as a songwriter keeping past excesses in check.  Sort of the counterpoint on “Deadwing” to the brief and meticulously crafted Lazarus.

Collapse The Light Into Earth from “In Absentia” (2002) is a heartbreakingly beautiful piano ballad reminiscent of bands like Coldplay, Automatic-era REM and Keane.  It’s simple, but lushly arranged, with an organ and strings swelling up as the song builds.  Wilson’s vocals are showcased here at their most delicate and vulnerable.  Few vocalists have the ability to convey emotion as well as he, and if you have a tendency to tear up when listening to music, you might want to keep tissues handy for this one!  Writing music that’s beautiful while remaining simple and elegant is probably harder than writing complicated music with a million parts and layers, but Wilson and crew do both with aplomb.  Interesting how powerful and emotional just a few chords and a simple melody can be.  I’ll have to remember to KISS next time I’m recording.  The climax of this song is a great example of musical catharsis.  I was very close to choosing this as MSMOTD.

The final song below is Heartattack In A Layby, from “In Absentia”.  It’s a more brooding, yearning tune with very sparse instrumentation and heavy vocal layering.  The complex vocal harmonies during the last half are heart-wrenchingly beautiful.  A lot of reviews compare this song to either Radiohead (due to the feel/instrumentation) or the Beach Boys (for the vocal harmonies).  An interesting pairing to be sure.  I love how the song sort of drifts along, like a boat bobbing aimlessly along on an ocean of dreams – the man in the moon hanging silver above, singing lamentations and plucking a diamond harp.  Midway through the dream, the stars begin to float down, their fading cries harmonizing softly with the moon as they crash into the waves all around.  The moon fades at last and all is darkness.  Listen for the waves at the end of the song.

These guys have such a huge catalogue of diverse material that I really haven’t even begun to adequately represent their (his) contribution to music.  The songs I’ve posted are ballad-heavy and only from two of 9 (soon 10) albums and countless EPs etc.  Earlier work like “Stupid Dream”, “Signify” and “Lightbulb Sun” is just as amazing, as is their most recent, and hopefully the new one – “The Incident” – as well!  I’d love to know what you guys think of Porcupine Tree.  Let me know through the comments!

- Mons

More music from Porcupine Tree

Porcupine Tree – Collapse The Light Into Earth (buy this song)

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Porcupine Tree – Heartattack In A Layby (buy this song)

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Also recommended: Blackest Eyes, Baby Dream In Cellophane, Even Less, Trains, Sentimental, Deadwing, Shesmovedon, The Sky Moves Sideways

Further info about today’s MSMOTD

Official Website: http://www.porcupinetree.com/

Myspace Profile: http://www.myspace.com/porcupinetree

Wikipedia Article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porcupine_Tree

Featured Review: DPRP’s review of “Fear Of A Blank Planet” (They have a huge library of reviews, including every PT album/single, most of which are DPRP-Recommended, so go check them out as well.)

Support Porcupine Tree (and me!) by buying their albums through Amazon.com.  I highly recommend In Absentia, Deadwing, Fear of a Blank Planet, and Stupid Dream. The individual mp3s can also be purchased (see links in the article above).

5 Responses to “Porcupine Tree – Lazarus”

  1. Lazarus: As you know, I absolutely love this song. It’s perfect (as are so many songs you’ve posted: “On The Wing” – Owl City, “Gotta Have You” – The Weepies, and “Please Don’t Go” – Barcelona) in its wistful contemplation and yearning, but what I love about this one is that he seems to actually be catching a glimpse of what he’s looking for, and you get a sense of wonder and contentment when you listen to it.

    Arriving Somewhere But Not Here: Loved it, especially when the more hardcore guitar riffs came out there. This is a different kind of love than for the first one however. I can imagine myself just relaxing to a good book while listening to this, instead of wiping away tears while writing imagistic poetry, haha.

    Collapse The Light Into The Earth: Your self-prescribed methods for your next recording session perfectly describe what this sounds like to me. This is a beautiful piece, and what the soundtrack in my head usually sounds like when writing my poetry. (If only music burst forth in the background for every event in our lives… Oh, well. Someday, I will find some sort of soundtrack for my life and just play it all the time, haha). My honest thoughts on listening to this earlier on this one were: it would be even better if the piano was more like your style, actually.

    Heartattack In A Layby: I really loved the beautiful stars and moonlight and diamond harp imagery in your description of this song, it was perfect for the song’s mood! The song itself, as with the rest of these, was beautiful. I really really loved this selection, and it was definitely worth the wait. :D

  2. Yeah, I figured you’d like these songs. :) You should explore more of their music! They have some amazing stuff that I didn’t post. Also, check the Modeselektor post. :P

    ps. You might enjoy looking up Steve Wilson’s lyrics. He’s a really talented and intelligent lyricist, though his music is often very melancholy/sad.

  3. Also, if anyone actually read through that entire wall of text, let me know! I can post the music without all the rambling if it’s superfluous, since that would take significantly less effort, haha.

  4. Actually, I think the text really enhances the listening experience. When I’m listening to the song, I like to read your thoughts on that particular song, to pick out what you point out and to make my own conclusions! (Also, where else can you find “festooned in silly scareves” and “ha ha Marx was right all along” in the same paragraph???)

    As for Wilson’s lyrics, any suggestions?

  5. ooo I like this a lot. I’m a big fan of Tool and A Perfect Circle and in general I fall on the heavier side of things music wise. What album or song of theirs would you recommend for me to listen to next?