What does it sound like?:
I can’t really comment on the sound quality as I’ve been living with this as a 192k stream for the last couple of weeks but I’ve got the Blu-ray coming soon and I can’t wait to hear it in full quality and especially the Atmos mix which should be fantastic.
What does it all *mean*?
Or…Steven Wilson in return to form shocker
Which would be an unfair sub-headline as he never really lost “form” but if, like me you were hankering after a return to the spirit, musically if nothing else of “The Raven…” and “Hand. Cannot. Erase” then you are not going to be disappointed by this album.
Any artist who specifically wants to push his own boundaries isn’t going to please all the people all of the time and there’s nothing wrong with the last two albums per se but I don’t go back to “To The Bone” ever and after an initial flurry, I think “The Future Bites” is patchy. Wilson himself has said that TTB was an homage to ’80s art pop and TFB was his streamlined electronic pop record. Wilson is proud of every album being different in style and I suppose if you’re going to work like that it’s inevitable that there will be misses as well as hits. You can’t please all the people…etc
So The Harmony Codex arrives after, arguably, a couple of underperforming albums by his own high standards and if this was his next album after H.C.E. then I think we’d all be talking about how he’s continued along a path set up by that and The Raven…
This album is a return to a more conceptual, experimental style and it’s all the better for it. Having said that, though, without some of the work on TFB, this album probably wouldn’t have appeared in this form. The modular synths and programming are still evident but they are used to build structures often a long way from the more traditional song structures of the last album.
There is a concept running through this. Based on his own surreal short story of the same name, it seems to boil down to how, no matter what you think of your own place in the world and in your own life, good, bad, indifferent, it’s the journey that matters as the destination is the same for everyone. This does lead the album into some dark places lyrically at times, with some music to match, but it’s ultimately uplifting (unless, presumably, you do believe in there being some different destination for all of us, or just yourself!). The album closes with “Staircase” and it feels like a never-ending one. The moral of the story is, I think, that YOU decide whether you can step off the staircase sometimes. Life is short – find a way to enjoy it.
Musically, Wilson produces a great range of styles within this context and the album isn’t so high concept that every track is exactly part of the story but they still relate to the central theme. Three of the tracks clock in above 9 minutes but there are a couple of “ballads” if anything as sonically interesting as Wilson’s work can ever be described as that. “What Life Brings”, just the second track in after the starter “Inclination” is a melodic gem and further in there’s “Rock Bottom” essentially a duet with its writer, long-time collaborator Ninet Tayeb. Her vocal is fantastic. Not that it’s straightforward, mind you and vocal treatments, primarily of Wilson’s voice are a feature of the album.
You may have already some across “Impossible Tightrope” as it was pre-released with an accompanying video. Your reaction to it may well sum up what you’re likely to think about the album as a whole. It’s nearly 11 minutes of prog, jazz and electronics and it’s great. The title track, another 10 minutes, give or take, is a beautiful ambient synth pattern that builds over its length with a spoken vocal by Wilson’s wife Rotem. The shorter tracks are no less remarkable, mind you. “Actual Brutal Facts” features a new vocalist (actually, it’s Wilson’s voice heavily treated) and some heavier guitar and bass work.
Then it’s the closer “Staircase” which brings the album to a conclusion, musically and conceptually. If you love a dirty, treated, bass solo (Afterword T-Shirt) and I do, this one is for you.
Goes well with…
29th September, 2023
Might suit people who like…
Previous Steven Wilson albums