March Through Time: Porcupine Tree

Led by Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree is for me the most important musical discovery of the 21st century. I first heard the group in early 2007, around the time of their ninth album, Fear of a Blank Planet. Interviewing Wilson for the first of several times then, I had a lot of catching up to do. I’ve long since acquired the band’s entire catalog, and dug in as well to related projects like IEM, no-man, Bass Communion, Storm Corrosion, Blackfield and of course Wilson’s solo work. The group went inactive in 2010, but I’m pleased to hear that they’re reuniting and have a new album due in June of this year (alas and sadly without bassist Colin Edwin).

Porcupine Tree is that rare act – for me, along with only The Beatles and Pink Floyd – for which I can recommend every single one of their releases without hesitation. Some are better than others, of course, but there are no weak ones in the lot. So rather than do a rundown of the band’s catalog, I’m instead going to single out ten key tracks.

  • Radioactive Toy” (from On the Sunday of Life… [1992]) – A very early track dating from the period in which the “band” was just Steven Wilson, this one has lots of shade and light. It traffics in a bit of neo-psych, but there’s more going on.
  • Always Never” (from Up the Downstair [1993]) – Wilson shows his command of lyrics in a song that has both romantic-leaning lyrics and a sinewy, corkscrew lead signature melody.
  • The Sky Moves Sideways” (from The Sky Moves Sideways [1995]) – This two-part suite fills more than half the album, and it is largely responsible for Porcupine Tree’s earned reputation as a sort of Second Coming of Pink Floyd (the Gilmour-esque lead guitar is apretty inescapable connection as well.) Great stuff.
  • Every Home is Wired” (from Signify [1996]) – Wilson could write a winning pop tune when he put his mind to it, and here he does so while remaining within the space rock/prog idiom.
  • Even Less” (from Stupid Dream [1999]) – A majestic tune, easily one of Wilson’s finest compositions. He balances sound and silence, power and subtlety.
  • Stranger by the Minute” (from Stupid Dream [1999]) – Another indelibly strong pop melody, this track is one of the most user-friendly entry points into Porcupine Tree’s body of work. But there are many.
  • Four Chords That Made a Million” (from Lightbulb Sun [2000]) – If Steven Wilson had wanted to be a Britpop hero, he could have done it with songs like these. Of course the lyrics take steady aim at that scene; I think it’s about Kula Shaker, but it could’ve been any number of other bands of that era. Or none. Or all.
  • The Sound of Muzak” (from In Absentia [2002]) – Strong melodies, prog sensibility and a topical lyric about the state of pop music in the new century. What’s not to love?
  • Arriving Somewhere But Not Here” (from Deadwing [2005]) – Quite possibly the perfect Porcupine Tree song. An extended work that moves through pop, prog, metal, space rock and other textures.
  • Time Flies” (from The Incident [2009]) – From the band’s last (at least for a long while) studio album, this is technically a portion of a single album-long work. But even though there are some really aggressive, King Crimson-esque passages throughout the album, this is where Wilson’s gift for melody shines brightest.

Don’t read anything into the lack of selections from Fear of a Blank Planet and its related EP Nil Recurring. Both are fantastic; it’s just that the above are my top ten at the moment.