Hand. Cannot. Erase.
27th February 2015 - Kscope Records
01. First Regret
02. 3 Years Older
03. Hand Cannot Erase
04. Perfect Life
06. Home Invasion
07. Regret #9
10. Happy Returns
11. Ascendant Here On…
Steven Wilson is a true legend. The mastermind behind progressive rock stalwarts Porcupine Tree, he has also recently forged himself a stellar career as a solo artist, writing three albums that are all hailed more or less as masterpieces. The most recent, The Raven That Refused To Sing, drew huge amounts of praise from this very website.
Steven Wilson has always created music that is perhaps a little difficult to truly digest, and his latest, Hand Cannot Erase, might be his most challenging yet. A combination of shorter, art pop-type songs mixed with longer, despondent progressive rock pieces, there is almost an air of absence to this collection of songs, which is perhaps appropriate to the theme of the record.
Hand Cannot Erase is a concept album, but it feels more human, more real than the ghost story-themed The Raven That Refused To Sing; it’s about a woman who disappears one day, and no one notices for three years. It’s a much more human story, and that has obviously translated into the music. The concept is a pretty woeful one; she was popular and had friends, but was never missed. The album seems to act almost as a journal for her mind and thoughts, and it can seem very downcast at times, but it’s contrasted with moments of sun-breaking-through-clouds hope as well.
Nowhere is that dichotomy better demonstrated than the title track. The pop-prog saccharine melancholy of “Hand Cannot Erase” is surprisingly one of the best tracks on the album. It has an uplifting feeling to it while also seeming to be very sad. “Perfect Life” also demonstrates this emotional divide well.
“Regret #9”, meanwhile, is a wandering proggy piece that has a much warmer feeling than other songs. Keyboardist Adam Holzman gives us a fantastic keyboard solo, topped by an utterly jaw-dropping guitar solo courtesy of Guthrie Govan. It might hold up as best instrumental moment of the year.
Musically, this is a very different album from Steven Wilson. Whereas his previous solo works were much more instrumentally technical, this album is composed much more vocally. There are still moments where the instrumentalists get to shine – such as on “Home Invasion” and even the Rush-like “First Regret” – but overall the album is far more constructed like a Porcupine Tree album would be. That isn’t to say this sounds like a Porcupine Tree album, but the focus on the lyrical narrative is reminiscent of one. Some songs make use of a guest vocalist, Israeli pop rock singer Ninet Tayeb. Her voice is dark and well suited to the material, and is especially standout on the track “Ancestral“, a thirteen minute trudge. There are lighter moments throughout, but it culminates in some seriously dark and heavy instrumental work that really shows off Marco Minneman’s drumming skills.
As is typical for his work, Steven Wilson has once again achieved a perfect mix. It is delicate and dynamic, and it has a lot of space for everything to breathe. Little synth flourishes on “Transience” pop into the background of the song and add a nice extra dimension to the music.
Hand Cannot Erase perhaps stands out among Steven Wilson’s work as having the most unique identity. It is an amalgamation of all his various styles from various points in his career condensed into a lovely haunting package that features excellent backing musicians. It’s an immensely challenging listen – one that takes many listens to even get an inkling of what exactly Steven is trying to do – but gods above is it rewarding when it finally starts to click. Steven Wilson has done it again.
Best songs: “Hand Cannot Erase” “Regret #9” “Ancestral”