Archive for the ‘Porcupine Tree’ Category

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Porcupine Tree Signify

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Signify (1996)

Last winter, I listened to a lot of Porcupine Tree. I listened to, for the first time, Signify, Lightbulb Sun, and Stupid Dream. Of these, I probably like Signify the best.

I always remember winter when I listen to Signify, mostly because it was the default as I drove to work each day in ice and snow. And it is a suiting winter album.

I think and feel several things when I listen to Signify. The themes are usually bleak, dealing with disconnect and numbness. The lyrics ask haunting questions, such as “Where will be when the future comes?” It expresses discontent and anger toward religion and those use it for power, perhaps even outrightly condemning religion itself.

But musically, this is Porcupine Tree at their best, and they’re at their best quite often. If you’re used to In Absentia or Deadwing era Porcupine Tree, as I was, the style might take some getting used to. After all, it was composed in 1996, six years before In Absentia. But they rock as hard as ever and sound quintessentially Porucpine Tree. This album is host to several classics, such as “Sleep of No Dreaming,” “Sever,” “Idiot Prayer,” and “Dark Matter.”

This is one of those rare albums that’s good from start to finish. The message isn’t very good, expressing bleak discontent and outright negativity that could be depression-inducing at times, aided by the minor key tonality. It is certainly haunting and even creepy at points. But it’s Porcupine Tree and that’s to be expected. Just be aware that the album will deal with dark themes that it doesn’t attempt to answer positively.

Signify is a good album. Porcupine Tree is a highly talented band, and this album is worth a listen, if only for its outstanding musicality.

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The Art Of Making An Awesome Mix CD

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Nothing is awesomer than an amazing mix CD.  And I came up with an awesome one. At least, for me, it’s awesome. I think it’s an extension of my psyche, and anyone who is just like me should love it too!

Almost all, coincidentally, come from bands I’ve reviewed for my blog, in some form or another.  Of course, it’s not perfect (there’s no such thing as a perfect mix CD – Johnny Banks of Iowa claimed to have made one in 1978, but before it could be heard, it was tragically eaten by his pigs.)

Here is my mix, and beneath the track listing, I will explain why it’s so awesome.

1. “The Bandit” -The Starlight Mints
2. “Triple Fascination” – The Listening
3. “Lazarus” – Porcupine Tree
4. “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” – Modest Mouse
5. “Here Comes Your Man” – Pixies
6. “So Real” – Jeff Buckley
7. “Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)” – Sufjan Stevens
8. “A Lack of Color” – Death Cab for Cutie
9. “Roads” – Portishead
10. “Untiled” – Sigur Rós
11. “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” – Radiohead
12. “Mexico” – Incubus
13. “Jesus, Etc.” – Wilco
14. “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” – Gustav Holst

Now, I will go into the logic behind making a mix CD. Here are some of the basic rules:

1. The mix CD can never stop or end with a lead track or closing track from an album. For example, I could not start this mix CD with “Airbag” off Radiohead’s OK Computer, since that is the lead track from that album. Likewise, I cannot end it with Sonic Youth’s “The Trilogy” off Daydream Nation, since that album ends with that track. Otherwise, it just feels like your listening to that particular album, thus defeating the purpose of a mix CD.

Notice, then, with my track selection, I chose my lead song to be “The Bandit” by the Starlight Mints, which is track two off their album The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of. This was an awesome choice because the song is upbeat and gives energy, enticing the listener to listen further. Only in the rarest of circumstances do you start a mix CD with a slow, soft, or track that’s a downer, but we’ll get to that later.

In a similar vein, I chose my closing track to be “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity,” by Gustav Holst from his Planets suite. This was a wise choice, because “Jupiter” is in the middle of the suite, yet the piece can also stand on its own. Also, being so glorious sounding makes it conducive to be the ending of a great mix CD, although to some professional CD mixers, this choice might seem a little cliché.  Regardless, it is important to end the mix CD as strong as you started it, if not stronger, in a vainglorious way if at all possible. I am hard-pressed to think of a more epic sounding song than “Jupiter.” (If you haven’t heard it, listen to it! It rocks!)

2. The songs must flow well! Each and every song on my mix CD must blend reasonably well into the next. If you notice my selection above, I would argue that some of my choices are just pure genius, in particular, the transition from Radiohead’s “Street Spirit” into “Mexico.” Both are guitar-picked songs, and both sound like they are in a similar key). By the way, it’s always good for the next song’s first note to either be the same as the previous song’s last note, or at least in the same key. Usually you can tell if you’re ear is good enough – though not necessary, it’s a nice touch.

This also works for similar instruments. Note how strings conclude Wilco’s “Jesus Etc.,” which blends very well into Holst’s strings at the start of “Jupiter. More often than not, a good mix CD has tracks that blend well together, either through similar instruments, keys, distortion, or any other similarity.

3. Having the same two bands in a row is almost always a tacky decision, defeating the purpose of having a mix CD. Similar to this is having two songs from the same band on the mix CD, though you can get away with this more often. If you opt to do this, make sure that these songs showcase different styles for the band. For example, to use Radiohead again as an example, I could pick “Exit Music,” a nice acoustic number by them, and accompany this with “Backdrifts,” a mostly electric song by them using strange chord progressions.

4.  Try not to have all your songs have a similar feel, musicality, or theme. This also defeats the purpose of making a mix CD. The challenge of making an awesome mix CD comes with having plenty of variety form different bands, but still making it flow logically. An exception to this rule is if you’re making a “greatest hits” CD of a certain band, or an eighties themed post-punk CD, or a childhood guilty pleasures CD.

5.  Try to start lighthearted and happy before getting more serious. Try also to end on a light note, so the listener goes away feeling good. It’s the same with writing a book. There needs to be a hook, but it also has to end well or the reader will feel cheated. It’s the same with a great mix CD. Ask yourself: what do I want the listener to feel from the first notes of the first song? And what do I want them to walk away with? Like a good book, save all the heavy conflict, breakups, and drama for the middle. While I didn’t really have the foresight to do it with my mix CD above, try to have songs following your depressing songs that are sort of an answer to them in a positive way, thus making the sun shine over a dark and weary land, so to speak. Notice how in my example of a mix CD, I’ve incorporated all my heavy and depressing songs toward the CD’s middle. Notice how blatantly happy my last track is…I mean, the word “jollity” is in the song’s title! And the happiness of the sickly sweet Starlight Mints song speaks for itself.

6. The sixth rule is the hardest of all – don’t be so rule-bound! If all your mix CD’s follow a formula, than this, too, means that they aren’t a truly mix CDs. There has to be some sort of randomness to it. And keep in mind that once you get better, you’ll learn how to bend and break the rules at the right moments, thus becoming a Mozart or John Coltrane of making mix CDs.

I hope this essay has helped enlighten you on how to make an awesome mix CD. Next time, when you’re at a loss for what to put after that weird TV on the Radio song or just why your mix CD isn’t flowing right, I hope you’ll remember these rules and right your paths on the road of CD mixdom!

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Porcupine Tree – Deadwing

Saturday, April 18, 2009
Deadwing (2005)

Deadwing (2005)

From the first time I listened to this album it felt so innately familiar, like I heard all these songs before. This is definitely not a bad thing, in this case.

Every one of these songs are great and add something to the album, which I can’t really say for In Absentia. Certainly some are weaker than others, but every song shines here.

It starts hard with the nealy ten minute “Deadwing.” Next the pop-metallish “Shallow.” Then my favorite song on the album, “Lazarus,” is very pretty and spacey. It has a piano background which really make the song tender and warm while maintining its progressive elements.

Deadwing is my second Porcupine Tree album and it just makes me want to explore the band further. This is the beginning of a great and new obsession, I’m sure.

“Arriving Somewhere but Not Here” is just an epic twelve minute thrill ride. “Mellotron Scratch” is also good. I could just go through the rest of the songs and devote a sentence to each of them, but there really is no point. I’d just be repeating myslf.

I’m not really an expert on Porcupine Tree, but this album makes me want to be one. It’s very surprisng to me that they are not as popular. I know, there are a lot of people who know about Porcupine Tree, but I guess what I’m saying is if you were to walk up to someone at my unversity and ask them if they’ve heard of them, maybe one of fifty would say “yes.” As such, Porcupine Tree seem to be a secretly amazing band that only a lucky few will ever hear about.

Deadwing is fun. While In Absentia has some better songs, Deadwing seems more consistent. I’ll probably review Fear of a Blank Planet soon.

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Porcupine Tree – In Absentia

Friday, February 13, 2009
In Absentia (2002)

In Absentia (2002)

Though unique, In Absentia doesn’t sacrifice accessibility. On first listen, it is engaging, and remains so to me over a year after I got it.

In Absentia is a concept album about a serial killer – or the darkest elements of people. “The Creator Has a Masterpiece,” for example, is about child abuse. The music itself reflects the dark lyrics – the strumming is violent and thrashing, while some songs have a calm yet disconcerting vibe – “Lips of Ashes” is a good example. It’s a really cool album to listen to – it has many unexepected turns.

Given the murderous themes, this was a fitting album for my friend and I to listen to on our way to see Friday the 13th yesterday.

Some people really love Porcupine Tree. But I’m of the school that they aren’t the BA new gods of the universe some make them out to be. I admit Porcupine Tree’s musicality is impressive. The banjo solo in the almost poppy “Trains” is amazing, and the song’s hand claps are well-placed (I’m a sucker for hand claps). Other highlights include “Blackest Eyes,” “The Sound of Muzak,” and  “Gravity Eyelids.”

Though the front half of the album has the lion’s share of the best songs, my favorite song is actually the album closer,  “Collapse the Light Into Earth.” It’s a haunting piano refrain which repeats itself over and over, adding layer upon layer – first, voice, then strings, then all of them together. The song feels like a passageway from life to death, or life to new life. I can’t really explain why it feels that way to me.

I can’t understand Porcupine Tree, genre-wise, because they use so many ideas in their music. As a good progressive band, Porcupine Tree can take these varying ideas and combine them seamlessly.

Great album, great band.