Music

Porcupine Tree: The Incident

Porcupine Tree adds another concept album to its catalog. It may not be groundbreaking, but Steven Wilson's crew still provides the best Pink Floyd-meets-metal-meets-Britpop conglomeration out there.


Porcupine Tree

The Incident

Label: Roadrunner
US Release Date: 2009-09-15
UK Release Date: 2009-09-14
Label Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

At this point, you know what you're going to get from Porcupine Tree. They've been around for over 15 years and have evolved quite a bit over time. But things haven't changed too much for the band since 2003's In Absentia, which was the first album to add strong heavy metal influences to their Pink Floyd-meets-Britpop take on progressive rock. Frontman/mastermind Steven Wilson is one of those always-working musicians, with his hands in numerous side projects, including the release of his first proper solo album earlier this year. With his musical interests divided, Porcupine Tree have become somewhat predictable.

Which isn't to say The Incident is bad. By no means. This is yet another high-quality release from the band, which remain at or at least very near the top of their game. There are moments of pristine beauty here, as well as singalong pop songs and punishingly heavy passages. But the album's main conceit, that the title track is a single 55-minute work, seems to be mostly hype. Porcupine Tree's new home is Roadrunner Records, a label which knows the audience they're marketing to and understands that the idea of one super-long song is an attractive one to the band's hardcore fanbase. In reality, The Incident is a loosely connected concept piece that is comprised of 14 separate tracks.

The band's last release, 2007's Fear of a Blank Planet, was a similarly loose concept album, concerned mostly with disaffected teenagers and how video game and internet culture facilitates that attitude. The Incident was inspired when Wilson was stuck in a traffic jam and noticed caution tape that read "POLICE-INCIDENT" around an accident: "Afterwards, it struck me that 'incident' is a very detached word for something so destructive and traumatic for the people involved." Afterwards, he began to write songs based around that and other headline-making "incidents" and put them together here. But "The Incident" is much more succinct than its predecessor, which only contained seven tracks. Only the first single, "Time Flies", goes above the eight-minute mark here, and the album as a whole contains 18 songs in about 75 minutes. The final four songs, however, appear on a separate disc to emphasize that they are not related to the main concept.

Besides being the lead single, "Time Flies" is also one of the highlights of the disc. It's essentially a bright-sounding, catchy rock song that chugs along for four minutes before backing off into a minor key section dominated by a simple acoustic guitar riff and Gavin Harrison's ace drumming. But flashes of distorted guitar crop up here and there until the song slides into an epic, creepy solo before hitting the bridge and returning to the original catchy song for a very satisfying conclusion. Elsewhere on the album, the beautiful piano ballad "Kneel and Disconnect" utilizes layered vocal harmonies and flows smoothly into "Drawing the Line". This track at first seems like a slightly darker, more percussive followup to the previous song, but when it hits the chorus 90 seconds in, it becomes the album's most effective combination of melody and urgency. In a desperate tone of voice, Wilson sings "I'm drawing the line / I have my pride / I'm taking control / And I save my soul / I'm shutting you out / And I have no doubt" over a tense repeated guitar note.

The album opens with a crashing guitar chord repeated three times on "Occam's Razor". It's bracing and heavy, and it becomes even more effective when this theme returns later on in "Degree Zero of Liberty", which kicks off the album's most guitar-dominated section. "Octane Twisted" follows, starting off quiet and spare, but with menacing undertones as Wilson sings about flowing blood. The song then explodes into a pair of alternating guitar riffs for the duration. One is a balls-out heavy metal riff driven by Harrison's pounding drums, the other is noisy and tense but with more space, thanks to Harrison switching to his cymbals and staying away from the toms. After a short break on the quieter "The Seance", "Circle of Manias" bursts out with another two minutes and twenty seconds of heavy riffing. The relatively short length keeps this track from getting repetitive, showing that the band has learned from past mistakes (In Absentia's "Wedding Nails" was similar, but went on for over six minutes).

Although "The Incident" isn't precisely one long track, it does feel like a cohesive work. This is mostly a good thing, except that it has the unfortunate side effect of making the four-song disc two feel like an afterthought. That may not be fair, but it's the impression you're left with after the thematic unity of the first disc. Maybe after absorbing the main piece for a little while the songs of the second disc will start to come into their own, but for right now they feel like overload. The album as a whole, though, is very strong. For all his prog-rock and metal leanings, Steven Wilson knows that it all really comes down to the songwriting. And he is a very, very good songwriter, which keeps Porcupine Tree afloat even when they aren't really pushing the envelope.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image