Porcupine Tree - Closure / Continuation Music Album Reviews

Porcupine Tree - Closure / Continuation Music Album Reviews
On its first album in over a decade, the UK prog band embraces a newly collaborative process, setting an atmosphere of creeping tension and volatility.

The title of Porcupine Tree’s Closure/Continuation reads like a prompt from a choose-your-own-adventure novel that the authors haven’t finished writing yet. The UK prog-rock band’s eleventh studio album comes after more than a decade of silence, a hiatus during which founder and sole constant member Steven Wilson made five solo records. Between those increasingly non-proggy albums and a steady side gig remixing classic albums, Wilson seemed content. But the gravitational pull of Porcupine Tree has yanked him back into orbit—for the time being, at least. “I genuinely don’t know whether this is closure or the start of another continuing strand of the band’s career,” Wilson told The Guardian in March. On Closure/Continuation, this uncertainty arises through a rediscovered sense of musical volatility, a welcome rejoinder to 2009’s tedious, burnout-induced The Incident.

Wilson started Porcupine Tree in 1987 as something slightly more than a joke but considerably less than the wildly ambitious band it became. Hand-dubbed demo tapes with names like Tarquin’s Seaweed Farm and Love, Death & Mussolini were cheeky satires of England’s stuffy progressive rock tradition, but like Jethro Tull’s accidental classic Thick as a Brick, they also utilized its form. By 1996’s Signify, Porcupine Tree had added keyboardist Richard Barbieri, bassist Colin Edwin, and drummer Chris Maitland, and the presence of collaborators helped hone Wilson’s exploratory pieces into sharp rock songs. The band reshaped itself once again when Wilson fell in love with Opeth’s Still Life and struck up an alliance with their frontman, Mikael Åkerfeldt. The loose trilogy of 2002’s In Absentia, 2005’s Deadwing, and 2007’s Fear of a Blank Planet bears the mark of that friendship, augmenting the band’s tightly wound prog with crunching, metallic riffage. Future King Crimson drummer Gavin Harrison replaced Maitland behind the kit on those records, and his pummeling yet dexterous playing suited the heavier material well.

When Porcupine Tree departed the Royal Albert Hall stage on October 14, 2010, Wilson knew it would be their last show for an indefinite period. Barbieri and Harrison, who by then completed the band’s core trio, had not been informed. “You can’t help but feel bitter and hurt,” Barbieri told The Guardian, and their reunion on Closure/Continuation led to a reshaping of the band’s creative process. Despite recording their parts remotely, Wilson, Barbieri, and Harrison worked in closer collaboration than ever before. Of the seven songs on the standard edition of the album, only “Of the New Day” was penned solely by Wilson—a stark contrast to the writing credits of every other Porcupine Tree record. The three musicians frequently sound like they’re working through their decade of estrangement in real time, giving the songs a creeping, anxious tension.

The jarring bass riff that kicks off album opener “Harridan” sets the tone. Wilson plays three repetitions of the off-kilter line without accompaniment before Harrison’s skittering beat and Barbieri’s painterly washes of synth join the fray. When the vocals come in, Wilson defies any intimation of catchiness, singing in a meter that seems to live outside the song entirely: “Gold man bites down on a silver tongue/Takes a deep breath and blows the candle out.” The song eventually introduces a headbangable, Deadwing-style guitar riff, but it mostly exists to keep listener and band alike on their toes. The bridge, a beautifully sung counterpoint to the jagged verses, reappears at the end of the song, leaving both the melody and the narrative unresolved: “And what of us?/And what of me?/And what is left without you?”

This unsettled atmosphere spans the album. Even “Of the New Day,” a ballad roughly in the mold of earlier Porcupine Tree tracks like “Lazarus” and “My Ashes,” has a strangely paranoid sound, as the band switches between time signatures, never settling into a predictable groove. “Rats Return” and “Herd Culling” are cousins of “Harridan,” built on nervy bass lines that joust with impressionistic synths, while the Barbieri cowrite “Walk the Plank” is led by burbling electronics, sublimating Wilson’s guitar in favor of Eno-inspired soundscapes. These experiments don’t always reach the exhilarating heights of the band’s most beloved work, but they show a willingness to push forward into discomfort.

The best song is the towering, 10-minute closer, “Chimera’s Wreck.” (Three pretty-good bonus tracks are tacked onto the end of the limited-edition track list, the strongest of which is the Rush-like instrumental “Population Three.”) “Chimera’s Wreck” is also the song that most closely resembles the band’s mid-’00s peaks, with its labyrinthine structure, tricky rhythms, twitchy drumming, crushing riffs, and exaggerated loud-soft dynamics. It doesn’t feel like Porcupine Tree finding a new path forward so much as doubling down on their strengths. Wilson first walked away when he felt the band’s songwriting had become too formulaic. Closure/Continuation is admirable in its attempts to reject that formula, but in the end, it also proves just how good they were at it.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Porcupine Tree - Closure / Continuation Music Album Reviews Porcupine Tree - Closure / Continuation Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, July 05, 2022 Rating: 5

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