[29 April 2007]
Blackfield is the collaboration of Israel’s Aviv Geffen with Steven Wilson of English prog-rock group Porcupine Tree. In February they brought us their second self-titled album, Blackfield II, an effort that draws from many of the same influences as the first Blackfield release. These touches seep into all of the disc’s tracks, whether it be from the experimentalism of Pink Floyd, the progression of Dream Theater, or the haunting beauty of Radiohead.
The album is an expansive one, with each track gradually unfolding into broad and luscious textures. Piano, drums, guitar, and strings combine to create rich, gorgeous melodies which flow naturally into each other. The songs are lovely because they are restrained; where a band like Dream Theater’s music is powerful in its boldness, Blackfield’s harmonies are instead subtle and nuanced as Wilson and Geffen carefully manipulate time and space to their advantage.
The influences here are apparent without being overpowering: bits and pieces of instrumental breaks on every track seem to contain elements of Radiohead, while lyrics on “Someday” like, “No one cares about that fucking pretty face”, over mellow, mournful backgrounds echo the tone and feel of Pink Floyd, as does harmonic motion scattered all throughout the disc. Blackfield’s work is similar to these bands foremost in its progressive, anti-formulaic structures and sprawling phrases, but also in the tension and release these bands all share. The end of “Epidemic” is a powerful blend of instruments and lyrical lines like, “An epidemic in my heart / Takes hold and slowly poisons me”. Where tracks like “Once” and “Miss U” are sweeping, tracks like “This Killer” and “Some Day” are somewhat more withdrawn, but all share a common sense of intimacy and closeness that unifies the disc.
As a whole, Blackfield’s music calls forth in my ear a somewhat abstract comparison: American author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing. In its poignancy and acute accuracy with regard to human emotion, the disc makes me think of The Great Gatsby. In the way that Fitzgerald’s writing is both simplistic and lovely, he is also surprisingly accomplished at crafting moments of unexpected power, similar to the end of songs here like the opener “Once”, and “Where Is My Love?”, which grows into a blooming, glorious finale. However, in the way that Fitzgerald’s prose often becomes overly sentimental, so does Blackfield II. Fitzgerald’s writing, so consistently sweet and poetic, can at times become meaningless in its sentimentality. The trouble with this disc is that there is no moment of contrast or place to rest our ears. Every line is heart-wrenching, and so many moments are coated with thick, tragic strings that the emotional impact of the music eventually becomes ineffective, like a rich chocolate dessert we wish we’d only had one taste of.
“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet,” wrote Emily Dickinson. Similarly, the real, raw power of music comes in that fleeting climax which lasts only for a moment. Throughout Blackfield II, the built-up beauty we long for in a song seems to be almost too pervasive and readily available. In the beginning, the swelling orchestrations and dramatic build-ups are moving and touching. But by the end of the album, we are verging on weary. Each cut taken individually proves to be breathtaking, but by the end, the album leaves us tired. However, criticizing an album for being beautiful too often is like complaining when the sun shines brightly for too long, and ultimately Blackfield’s second album, like its first, is both gorgeous and enchanting.