The Strength of Balance: Steven Wilson’s Hand. Cannot. Erase.

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How long does it take a musician to find their sound? For some, this process lasts years and spans countless albums, while for others the entirety of their creative force is spent on their first release, leaving them to struggle for the rest of their careers attempting to recapture the magic that they once had.

I have long felt that Steven Wilson‘s creativity peaked with his work in Porcupine Tree. Being forced into a situation where for the sake of a band was self-limitation imposed — where he was unable to indulge every whim of creativity that flitted fickly through his mind — suited Wilson’s work. Porcupine Tree’s weakest moments came from Wilson’s narcissism (“Collapse the Light Into Earth” being a prime example). Thankfully these moments were few and far between, especially in the post Stupid Dream era.

This narcissism, this indulgence, so long restrained in the confines of the aforementioned Porcupine Tree, has typically been given free rein in Wilson’s solo work. Where Porcupine Tree produced quality progressive music with tendency toward the egotistical, Wilson’s solo music became an outlet for his pent-up self-absorption with a slight tendency toward quality. While Wilson did manage to produce fleeting moments of enjoyable music, after a time I grew weary of sifting through hours of halfheartedly avant-garde masturbation to find those moments. Over the course of Wilson’s solo output, from Insurgentes to The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) there was a progression away from artistic self-gratification towards musical maturity, and yet this movement always felt the strongest when Wilson would revert to the premise he had established with Porcupine Tree, begging the question – “Why bother?”

With Hand. Cannot. Erase. Wilson destroyed my expectations. This is not the album of an artist struggling to recapture the magic of his musical peak; rather, this is a new side of Wilson, a mature, a balanced side. The album is thoroughly Wilson and yet is unlike anything he has produced before. Eschewing almost the entirety of the pseudo avant-garde mentality so long prominent in his work for a clean, polished pop sound, Wilson ups the ante for progressive music by releasing an album that actually has progressed.

 

 

The triumph of this album lands squarely on the shoulders of its ability to balance. Walking the finest line between pop and prog, Hand. Cannot. Erase. blends perfectly seemingly contrasting genres, at one moment trip-hop, at another old-school prog, at another 90s pop. The maturity displayed in the sheer quality of writing on this album shows a new side of Wilson, one that has not disowned the myriad influences of his past, but rather embraces, then transcends them. There is Porcupine Tree to be found here. There is Yes, and King Crimson, and Rush. There is even a touch of his trademark self-indulgence. But while all these have been so prominent before, almost as though Wilson’s solo work has been but a drawn-out musical experiment with no end goal, here they are subdued — they have been balanced.

And yet, while this album is so phenomenally constructed, Wilson is still unable to completely let go of his own ego. The one real disadvantage of what would otherwise have been the strongest album of Wilson’s career is his vocals. The change in musical style necessitates a stronger voice than what Wilson’s thin vocal abilities can characterize. On tracks like “Routine” where female vocals step forward to take the soaring lead, the listener finds a breath of fresh air, like the first rays of light on a crisp spring morning. This is not to say that Wilson’s vocal performance does not have moments of true beauty, for there are times on this album where his work brings me nigh to tears. But the strength of his voice comes in contrast with other vocalist — the one point of balance that Wilson could not loose from his grasp. The scales still tip strongly in favour of Wilson’s voice. However, given the massive deviance shown in this album from the trajectory set by his last three, I would be unsurprised to see Wilson, in future endeavours, step back further yet, into the role of composer and director, as opposed to frontman and performer.

 

 

Hand. Cannot. Erase. is compiled perfectly, the songs being arranged in such a way that the listener is never bored, being confronted with new sounds and moods at every turn. And yet above this is the clear hand of balance, a mature hand not heard in Wilson’s work since Porcupine Tree, but distinct and new in its own right. Long-time Steven Wilson fans will undoubtedly feel his departure from the experimentation of his earlier work as a regressive choice, but for those of us who view his back catalogue with a more critical eye, this album is truly a welcome arrival.

 

Buy Hand. Cannot. Erase. on iTunes right now or at http://stevenwilsonhq.com/

(Image VIA)

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  • This album gives me feels and I have a schoolgirl crush on Steven Wilson. Great review, you delicious dipping product.

  • YourLogicIsFlushed

    Great perspective on this album Guac. I think I 100% agree with everything you said.

    Disappointed you didn’t mention http://handcannoterase.com/ though. It’s a little bit of that self-involved Wilson artistry, but it is a very cool piece of the album. It’s a blog written by the fictitious character that the album focuses on. If you have time, read from the bottom up!

    • Guacamole Jim

      Thanks! I actually avoided looking anything about this album up online, as I wanted my perception of it to be as fresh as possible. So I actually didn’t know that website existed until just now…

      • YourLogicIsFlushed

        Gotcha, I recommend getting a good feel for the album first anyway, it’s like a neat little additive that makes the next listen a little more interesting. Very intriguing story.

        • Guacamole Jim

          I’m going to give this a lookthrough on my lunch break today, methinks.

          • YourLogicIsFlushed

            If it’s an issue, there are some artistically shot tatas in there so you might wanna hold off.

          • Guacamole Jim

            Oh shit, thanks for the heads up! Maaaaybe going to hold off on that until this evening.

    • now I’m more interested in this project!

  • Tyree
  • MoshOff

    Interesting perspective dude. I liked his first three albums, but this one is definitely leagues ahead. What he may lack in non-pompousness he makes up for in mixing ability though. This is possibly the best sounding album of the year hands down.

    Also, Guthrie Govan.

    • Guacamole Jim

      Guthrie fucking Govan.

    • Damned straight. If every modern album was mastered like Steven Wison’s I’d have literally nothing to complain about and modern music would be…well, more LISTENABLE and less fatiguing.

      Most engineers want to devalue art and rather create background music that grabs your attention like a really loud obnoxious fucking commercial. The problem is, for people like me, it only gets my attention for a brief period of time and then I’m longing to get back to normal programming. Bad productions, where every instrument is full-time peaking and clipping at 0 dB FS, make my blood boil.

      • I played the entire Back for the Attack album last night. ITS SO FRICKING GOOD.

        • I love that album. Sounds great too.

          George Lynch could never learned to read music and he’s still better than most.

          • I feel like I have asked you this before – but – how did you like Under Lock and Key by Dokken? I feel like it was their best effort and had a tremendous sound. Thoughts?

          • Sound was great. None of the songs were bad. I thing BftA and Tooth and Nail are just a hair better but maybe that’s just me. Back in the day I never owned UL&K and, when I was listening to it, it was usually on loan from a friend. (Such were the days when a kid couldn’t afford every record or tape he wanted.)

          • Gotcha! I always thought that BftA had a couple of cheeesy filler songs (Cry of the Gypsy, Stop Fighting Love) that were a bit lame (still good though!). Under Lock and Key was just flawless.

          • Honestly, I think you’re right. BftA’s only real problem is that it’s overly-long. That’s also why I don’t now, nor have I ever, owned it on vinyl. WAY too long to be crammed on one LP as it was. I’m sure the sound quality suffered tremendously because Elektra was being cheap. It should have gone on 2 records.

          • They should have left Night by Night, So Many Tears, Burning Like a Flame (how was this ever a single? it sucks!), and Cry of the Gypsy of the album. Then it would have been the tits.

          • Maybe, but I don’t hate any of those songs.

            I may be biased by nostalgia though. I had some fun times at a roller rink when Burning Like a Flame was blasting, for instance.

      • Edward/Breegrodamus

        JAG what are your thoughts on prolific producer Colin Marston?

      • MoshOff

        I was listening to the 24-96 version and thinking about how good and dynamic it sounded. Then I ran the DR meter… DR13 with max of DR16. Holy batman.

        • I’m sure the Redbook/16/44.1 version will measure the same too.

          …but yeah: we’re talking late-eighties production norms here a/k/a A Good Thing.

          • You guys should get a room!

          • MoshOff

            I know, right? In normal human terms: it has abnormally good mixing and mastering values for an album released in 2015.

      • Nine Inch Males

        What’s even cooler is that SW has said he skips mastering on his albums. He’s just that fucking good of a mixer.

  • tertius_decimus

    I’m not into Porcupine Tree, to be honest, but Steven Wilson’s “The Raven That Refused To Sing” was gorgeous. Gonna give this a try.

    • YourLogicIsFlushed

      That album was a monster, I think I like it more than this one, but just by the tiniest amount. Hope you enjoy!

  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

    Saw Porcupine Tree live once in 2003. They were good. The end.

    • Sounds like it really “stuck” with you.

      • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

        I was waiting for Opeth. They were still good, and I had intentions to check out their catalog, but didn’t for some reason.

        • Tyree

          I gave them a go back in high school. I could not get past Steve’s whiny vagina voice though. Hell of good musicians though. I’m sure they are great live.

          • Guacamole Jim

            hahahahaha “Steve’s whiny vagina voice”

          • Tyree

            I feel the same way about Trent from NIN also.

          • I love SW’s vox but I still el, oh, elled.

        • My joke about being “stuck” by a porcupine was terrible and I am srry.

    • Farty McPoopyCoalRoll

      It was decent. I was there mostly for Opeth and the interview with them.

  • Enema For The Free World

    Homo.Erotic.Passion.Pop

  • Sir Tapir the Based

    I have heard a good musics. This is a good musics. 10/10 nice job Sir Guac. Stay hot.

    • Guacamole Jim

      The praise of both Sir Tapir the Based and the Masterlord on one article? Doth mine eyes deceive?

      • Sir Tapir the Based

        I’m gonna see Steven Wilson live next month. My little tapir ass is excited. Only bad thing is that I have to go to the city of sin and shit.

        • Maracaibo?

        • Enema For The Free World

          On Circus?

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            Mayyyyybe

          • Enema For The Free World

            IWILLFUCKINGMURDERYOUTHERE!!!!!!

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            That’s very illegal.

          • Enema For The Free World

            Not in Hellsinki. Not if I drug you first.

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            How you gonna drug me when I stab everyone that tries to talk to me or comes close to me?

          • Enema For The Free World

            *whistles*
            *The Kid may be a Beargod, but he sure play a mean darts*

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            The joke

            My head

          • Enema For The Free World

            I am good at darts, the lyrics were following Pinball Wizard by The Who

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            Oh. I hate The Who.

          • but they’re so good!

          • Says who?

          • Enema For The Free World

            who.

          • Guacamole Jim

            are you?

          • tu tú. tu tú!

          • i was doing my best JJD there, however it’s a statement on which i agree!

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            Shut up JJD!

          • Is a regular catchprase say “hellsinki” instead “helsinki”?

          • Enema For The Free World

            It’s a typo.

            But I guess Finnish equivalents of BLS people use it regularly, I know a shop called Hellsinki and stuff.

          • “Finnish equivalents of BLS” that was exactly the type of description I needed to communicate the stereotype of people that would use that 😛

            Also…

            Look what I found! ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

            http://www.hellsinkishop.com/images/products/paidat/2/HTS8001_orig.jpg

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            Who the fuck let Mickey Mouse outside? Get him back to his keyboard!

          • Enema For The Free World

            Oh hai! And Btw
            New Nightwish sucks.

          • you have listened the entire album?

          • Enema For The Free World

            NO one can get through that twenty minute shitsack at the end or various other shitty parts, but mostly.

          • *gulp*

            Ummm, okkk.

            😀

          • Enema For The Free World

            Mostly it’s actually just boring and they never utilize her voice half as good as they should. I mean the singing is very mellow and simplistic much of the time. No soaring melodies and the orchestra is still too big even though Lolopainen said it wouldn’t be.

          • woah, that’s a bummer, Bear.

            The song with the video they posted was very bland. I liked the vocals, but it was BLAND! 🙁

          • Enema For The Free World

            The two others that are out now (Sagan and Shudder Before The Beautiful) are exactly the same bland, stale-reck sheit.

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            I’m so surprised!

          • Enema For The Free World

            What I mean is HAHTO FUCKING SUCKS

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            In general or in Nightwish?

          • Enema For The Free World

            Take a big fucking guess.

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            It’s your opinion, so probably in general?

          • Enema For The Free World

            Below and only with Lolopainen’s revue of filth.

          • Enema For The Free World

            I mean, c’mon! You could have played a fill every now and then, even a boring little one. BUT NO!

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            Did you expect him to do that in Nightwish? Holopainen wouldn’t allow him to do that.

          • Enema For The Free World

            I had absolutely no expectations, no. correction, I expected shit and I was still horrified and dissapointed.

          • Sir Tapir the Based

          • Enema For The Free World

            Loved Hugo games as a kiddo.

          • Farty McPoopyCoalRoll

            I thought he was Scrooge McDuck.

          • Enema For The Free World

            Lolopainen at it again.
            Confession, I’ve used that shop.

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            The Homo Erotic Passion Pop will protect me!

          • Enema For The Free World

            The Homo Erotic Passion will break you however.

        • Guacamole Jim

          I’ve got my tickets for when he finally makes his way to my neck of the woods. It’s a sit-down show, scheduled for a normal, adult time. I am bursting at the seams with happiness.

        • Farty McPoopyCoalRoll

          Flint, Michigan?

    • I feel like there was a time when you were not so positive. If that was really the case, I am glad we new have the new and improved Death/Anus/Sir Tapir 🙂

      • Sir Tapir the Based

        I decided to take up murdering people, so most of my hate goes there.

  • Enema For The Free World

    Neither of these videos will play. #GotRekt

    • Edward/Breegrodamus

      I’m at work Bear God, lol

      • Enema For The Free World

        I am not, darn videos still won’t play *weeps*

        • Edward/Breegrodamus

          Tomorrow is the last day that this will be an issue for me, for a time.

          • You should be more positive, man!

          • Edward/Breegrodamus

            What do you mean GL? I’m doing pretty well with the whole thing.

          • Isn’t there a chance that you will not be let go? Or is it for sure? That is what I am getting at.

          • From what I understand, he wants to be let go?

          • Edward/Breegrodamus

            Yeah, since I found out it was likely going to happen last September and then more concretely at the end of December it’s like yo, can’t we just get this shit over with.

          • I feel you man, I’m in the similar situation. It’s looking like I found another job but they said I will know for sure within the next two days.

          • Edward/Breegrodamus

            Sounds like both congrats and good luck are in order!

            Honestly I’m not going to start looking for something else until after April 10th, at least. Nice that I can afford that.

          • I see. Sorry for the confusion!

          • Edward/Breegrodamus

            Oh, not a problem at all, no worries!

          • Yea that’s a nice luxury you’ve got there for sure

          • Farty McPoopyCoalRoll

            Good luck!
            I’m going over to the labor office now that it’s warmed up, hopefully will at least find something temporary.

          • Edward/Breegrodamus

            It’s for sure, I found out yesterday but still have to go through the rigmorale of going to lunch with the old and new owner of the company to make it official.

          • CT-12

            Woah dude, sorry to hear man, that fucking blows

          • Edward/Breegrodamus

            I think things are going to eventually work out, but thanks, I appreciate it. I think the lunch is going to be kind of awful since I have to eat lunch with the dude who is letting me go that I barely know. I like my old boss well enough.

          • CT-12

            Fucking lame, at least Death Grips have “Jenny Death” steaming in full on youtube today!

    • hrm… from which country are you attempting to watch them?

      • Enema For The Free World

        “Kanada”

        (“Räjähdys”)
        (“Valitettavasti ei ollut Kiinan joukkueen vastaus oikea”)

  • Edward/Breegrodamus

    Glock Jim,

    I am painfully out of touch with the music of Steven Wilson and or Porcupine Tree.

    In theory it sounds like something I would dig.

    I enjoyed reading this article.

    • getting into PT now would be insanely intimidating, as each album is so different from each other one! i started with In Absentia, which contains a good balance of their older, Pink Floyd-ian work and their newer, metal-ish work

      • Enema For The Free World

        I think maybe a playlist would just be most convenient, lol

        • let’s do this!
          1. Trains (thanks @linkleonhart:disqus)
          2. Gravity Eyelids

          • I haven’t listened their entire discography, but I dug In Absentia, Fear of a Blank Planet and The Sky Moves Sideways. I started with Deadwing and Lazarus was one of the first songs I learnt in guitarra.

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            Anesthetize >>>>>>>>>>>>

          • Sentimental was very good too.

          • Enema For The Free World

            Alrightythen!
            3. Arriving Somewhere But Not Here
            4. Piano Lessons

          • Arriving Somewhere….. But not here.

            Dayum.

            The feels.

            T_T)

          • Enema For The Free World

            5. Even Less
            6. Fear Of A Blank Planet
            7. Anesthetize
            8. Signify

          • 9. Heartattack in a Laybay.
            10. The Moon Touches your Shoulder (i’ve learnt that one in the guitarra too).

          • 11. Don’t Hate Me (so Floyd-ian!)

          • Tyree
      • I like trains.

      • Edward/Breegrodamus

        To be fair, getting into so many _____________________ is / are intimidating. Fucking music, man ❤

        • Dagon

          I second this. Fuck music.

      • Scrimm

        Hate it all.

  • Thanks for this review, brother! Now I will have to finally check it, I can’t find it in my regular services of music. I don’t like to stream from Youtube.

  • JamesGrimm

    Rather boring.

    • Guacamole Jim
    • I know. I’m of the opinion that all music must inspire me to break everything in my basement-bedroom in a fit of adolescent rage. I can’t believe people listen to music to relax and shit.

      • Enema For The Free World

        I’d agree with you if I didn’t find this bore-ish too at times.

        • sar·casm
          ˈsärˌkazəm/
          noun
          the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.

          • Enema For The Free World

            It was obvious, but it seemed to me that there was a grain of truth in it, so I passed to comment to this grain.

          • JamesGrimm

            fail·ure
            ˈfālyər/
            noun
            1.
            lack of success.

          • Guacamole Jim

            ta·pir
            ˈtāpər/
            noun
            a nocturnal hoofed mammal with a stout body, sturdy limbs, and a short flexible proboscis, native to the forests of tropical America and Malaysia.

      • CT-12

        Dayum son, #JAGrekt

  • Dagon

    I like how you value your writing and use no score at the end of the review. It makes me question the few reviews I’ve written.

    This was very descriptive and thorough. I have never listened to Steven Wilson or Porcupine Tree before and I felt inclined to give it a try. Loved the solo in Ancestral doe.

  • tertius_decimus

    Это видео содержит материалы от партнера [Merlin] Essential Music, который заблокировал это содержание для показа в вашей стране в целях соблюдения авторских прав.

    Fuck you.

    • Sir Tapir the Based

      I can read those words, but I don’t know what they mean. 4 years of studying and I remember barely anything.

      • tertius_decimus

        In rough English it says: “This video is blocked because you’re fucking untermensch”.

        • Guacamole Jim
          • Enema For The Free World

            Oh I see how things are! Go on then! Run Away with your little wench! Not a fragment of attention to me! Go On! Run! And don’t let me catch you, you heartless swine!!

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            You suck, tertius doesn’t.
            #sadfactsoflife

          • Enema For The Free World

            You shouldn’t be mean to the man who may be about to maul you.

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            I ain’t afraid.

          • Enema For The Free World

            That’s ’cause you’re emotionally unable.

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            I would cry so hard if I could.

          • Enema For The Free World

            “YouGotRektByBear

          • Sir Tapir the Based

          • Guacamole Jim

            But Finland is imaginary! I felt it obvious the videos wouldn’t have worked.

          • Enema For The Free World

            See my answer to Jiminy McNovelty, I am streaming from Kanada,
            You yellow BASTARD!

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            Stealing jokes from Kummeli is your new thing?

          • Enema For The Free World

            #JokeForTheDay

          • Guacamole Jim

            YOU DON’T EVEN REALLY LIKE IT YOU TURD WRANGLER

          • Enema For The Free World

            BUT I COULD HAVE LIKED YOU! YOU. RUINED. EVERYTHING!

          • Guacamole Jim
          • Sir Tapir the Based

            YO! Stay away from Sir Guac, he’s mine!

        • untermensch meaning “subhuman”?

  • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    mellotron is underated—someone could steal that vibe–also great david gilmour type guitar solo–yet updated—still didnt like the lyrics/attitude—

    a slave who grew up being p.c.—-and his poetry reflects the defeated–self blame—soul flaccidness——-a tragic sad victim

    fuck those motherfuckers–

    here’s a song for these brainless -followers—shitheads—who never question the msm
    (both at once–full vol)
    https://youtu.be/qF1m7OlZblM

    https://youtu.be/b07-yKnKRMQ

    • Farty McPoopyCoalRoll

      Interviewed and met Melotron way back when. LOVE ’em!

  • hey guise, the TovH Google+ page now has a custom URL!
    https://plus.google.com/+Toiletovhell
    thanks to all who joined and visit it!

  • Farty McPoopyCoalRoll

    I’ve tried several times to get into PT and Wilson’s work, but it never quite connected with me. Their live show (when I saw them with Opeth on the Damnation tour) was halfway decent, though.

  • Stockhausen

    Steven Wilson makes me all tingly. This album friggin’ rules, thanks for the review GJ.

    • Guacamole Jim

      Thank you for stopping by, dead composer!

  • nbm02ss

    I can’t get into Wilson; a lot of it is his voice, but also that he doesn’t seem to do more than just pay tribute to dad rock over and over again.

  • This is a thing that I like.

  • CT-12

    Beautiful review GuacJim, your words truly got me interested in listening to this album and I am going to check it out right now. Thanks for providing some deep insight into this album.

    • Sir Tapir the Based

      It’s a dimmadarn good album. It may be my favourite Wilson album to date.

      • CT-12

        Thanks for your addition! I know a bud of mine who probably bought this album, I’ll have to borrow it from him.