Friday, July 7, 2023

Archive Review: Steven Wilson’s Insurgentes (2009)

Steven Wilson’s Insurgentes
Rock music these days is largely a game of desire, with many musicians acting as petulant children wanting an extra cookie at snack time. Every singer wants to leave their band to become a solo artist, every guitarist wants to become the singer, every bassist wants to play guitar and, well, you get the idea. The rules are different in prog-rock, though, where musicians get a chance to pretty much wear whatever cloak they want on any given day, depending on their skill set and ambition. Take, for instance, Steven Wilson, prog-rock wunderkind and the subject of today’s treatise.

The erstwhile singer/songwriter/guitarist in front of neo-proggers Porcupine Tree, Wilson has so much music inside, knocking at the door waiting to be let out, that he can’t be constrained by just the efforts of his already-prolific full-time band. No, Wilson has also dabbled in side-projects such as Blackfield, his collaboration with Israeli musician Aviv Geffen, as well as No-Man with vocalist and songwriter Tim Bowness. Did I mention that he has also spend significant time hanging around the studio with Goth-metal cult faves Opeth? Or that he’s lent his musical and production skills to works by former Marillion frontman Fish and ex-Japan bassist Mick Karn?

Steven Wilson’s Insurgentes

Hell, he even sang behind Janet Jackson on “Rhythm Nation”! And it’s not like Wilson is a dilettante, sniffing around here and there and quickly abandoning projects…these side deals have, in some cases, lasted for years and have resulted in better than a dozen albums. Still, the release of Wilson’s solo album Insurgentes marks a distinct departure from his previous modus operandi. A full-length work more akin to a Porcupine Tree album than to much of his avant-garde personal wanderings, Insurgentes is his highest-profile solo album, Wilson’s most traditional and yet adventurous work to date.

Within the ten songs on Insurgentes Wilson has created a wealth of tone and texture, each composition a surprising carnival ride of the unexpected. The brilliant “Abandoner” is a moody, atmospheric piece with a fractured antique sound serving as a recurring riff upon which Wilson layers on subdued vocals, odd instrumentation, and percussive keyboards and synth. After lulling you into an unquiet sleep, the song suddenly explodes around the three-anna-half mark into a blazing white light roar before gently lapsing back into its languid state.

“Salvaging,” a lengthy soundscape, rages from pastoral to furious and back, and displays some of Wilson’s most expressive and deeply-cutting guitarplay as well as his most gentle composing skills. The disjointed and cacophonous “No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun” is a dense, eight-minute clash of instrumentation that treads not-so-lightly into Sun Ra territory, admittedly from a rock perspective. Helped by prog royalty like bassist Tony Levin (King Crimson) and pianist Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), the song’s unexpected twists-and-turns make for a challenging and, ultimately, rewarding work.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

With Insurgentes, Steven Wilson has taken a giant step forward in favor of his solo career, capturing his unique vision with this intelligent collection of imagination, anger, and passion. Incorporating the electronic drone and avant-garde experimentation of much of his earlier solo work with the aggressiveness of hard rock and the virtuoso nature of progressive rock, Wilson has created in Insurgentes a hybrid, of sorts, certain to keep listeners scratching their heads and sighing in disbelief for some time. (Kscope Records, released ‎March 22nd, 2009)   

Review originally published by Blurt magazine, 2009

Buy the CD from Amazon: Steven Wilson’s Insurgentes

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