There is no denying the major influence Steve Wilson and Porcupine Tree have had on the next generation of progressive rock artists. Elements of Porcupine Tree can be heard in the music of progressive artists across the globe including Abigail's Ghost (Louisiana, USA), Nightingale (Sweden), Riverside (Poland), Opeth (Sweden), Memories Of Machines (England & Italy), Oceansize (Manchester, England), Lunatic Soul (Poland), and Airbag (Oslo, Norway) to name a few. And Wilson's many side projects like Blackfield, No-Man, Storm Corrosion, IEM, and Bass Communion have expanded that influence even greater.
Well add to that list the talented Italian composer and multi-instrumentalist Giancarlo Erra, founder of the prominent Italian progressive band Nosound.
Erra readily acknowledges his early musical influences as Pink Floyd, Brian Eno, Sigur Ros, and of course Porcupine Tree. But it's mainly the spirit of Porcupine Tree and Wilson's side project No-Man with partner Tim Bowness which is easily identifiable in the music of Nosound – and specifically the album I'm reviewing today, “Afterthought”.
Nosound was essentially the moniker for the 2005 solo recording “Sol29” from Giancarlo Erra. He wrote, performed, recorded, engineered, and produced the entire album with limited musical assistance from bassist Alessandro Luci.
Shortly after releasing “Sol29” Giancarlo Erra established Nosound as a bona fide five piece band for the subsequent albums Lightdark” (2008) and “A Sense Of Loss” (2009). As well as the live concert DVD “The World Outside” (2006).
The current line-up on “Afterthoughts” consists of: Giancarlo Erra (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Paolo Vigliarolo (acoustic guitar), Alessandro Luci (bass guitar, keyboards), Giulio Caneponi (drums, percussion), Marco Berni (keyboards, vocals), Marianne DeChastelaine (Cello) and Chris Maitland (drums, percussion).
Nosound is highly regarded by both critics and fans alike as one of Italy's most promising new bands, by incorporating elements of 70s' psychedelia, the expansive soundscapes of ambient new age music, progressive art rock, and the post rock of the new Millennium.
The band garnered back-to-back 'Best Recording' honors for “Lightdark” and “A Sense Of Loss” from the Italian Progressive Music Award.
Expect similar accolades to be heaped upon the band in 2013.
The music on “Afterthoughts” harkens back to that period in time I'll call Porcupine Tree Mk II – the era between the 1995 release “The Sky Moves Sideways” through the 2001 release “Recordings”.
Too often bands are arbitrarily compared to Porcupine Tree when in fact Porcupine Tree has gone through a series of major transitions. Comparisons need to be more specific since the 1991 release “On The Sunday Of Life” bears little resemblance to the Porcupine Tree of 2013.
Porcupine Tree Mk I were closer in style to the early psychedelic albums of Pink Floyd during the reign of Syd Barrett. The albums “Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” and “Saucerful Of Secrets” are trippy psychedelia world's apart from Floyd's sophisticated concept albums “Dark Side Of The Moon”, “Animals”, “Wish You Were Here” and “The Wall”.
That same contrasting style can be applied to the early Porcupine Tree albums “On The Sunday Of Life” and “Up The Downstair”, which are a complete departure from the most recent string of albums: “In Absentia”, Deadwing, “Fear Of The Blank Planet” and “The Incident” - representing the heavier Mark III era of the band.
So with that in mind I'd suggest as a point of reference the music on “Afterthoughts” is closely related to the Porcupine Tree album “The Sky Moves Sideways.
A cinematic texture of moody melancholia permeates all nine tracks of “Afterthoughts”, which unfortunately never wavers from one track to the next.
To sum up my main criticism of “Afterthoughts” I'll refer to a paragraph from my review of the Airbag album “Identity” which suffered similar shortcomings:
“Each individual atmospheric soundscape is masterfully arranged and produced, taking listeners on a soothing journey into the cosmic void, yet the album on a whole never deviates from the singular mood set by the very first tune. So with no variations from one tune to the next each ballad blends into a musical blur, with nothing to distinguish one track from the next. The very chilled nature of the collective compositions puts the listener into a melancholy Prozac trance. And at no time does the band expend enough energy or up-tempo aural variety to revive us from this musically induced state of melancholia.”
With a fluid, musically cohesive album like “Afterthoughts” I'm conflicted in my final appraisal of the work as a whole. Each individual track was beautifully constructed and performed. And I was moved by the music, genuinely impressed with the production value of the recording and quality musicianship throughout, and whisked away by the dynamic vocals of Giancarlo Erra – yet my longing for some variation in tempo and infusion of energy level left me unsatisfied. It wasn't until 3 minutes into the seventh track “Wherever You Are” that the drums kicked in and the song gains uptempo momentum … but before my mind and body had time to react favorably to the change it only lasted about a minute before lapsing back into the thematic moody melancholia of the album as a whole.
Track 8 “Paralyzed” also showed a momentary flash of Pink Floyd-esque dynamics and soaring guitars – but then drifts back to introspective musings.
Then making matters worse, at the 6:07 mark of what was an otherwise beautiful song Erra's vocals begin an extended minute and a half of ascending “ahhhs” which overstayed their welcome after about 30 seconds – eventually deteriorating into unpleasant caterwauling before the final fade-out brought it to a merciful end. The only real misstep on the whole album. But annoying enough for me to skip to the next track once the tune hits that 6:07 mark.
Although my impressions are somewhat mixed I would still recommend the album to progressive music listeners and aficionados of chilled-out melancholy bands like Airbag, No-Man, and the spacy introspective moments of MKII Porcupine Tree.
And for those with an affinity for the music of Nosound, Airbag, and No-Man I might also suggest the 2011 Memories Of Machines release “Warm Winter”, which is a collaborative side project of Giancarlo Erra and Tim Bowness of No-Man. The album features an impressive list of guest artists which include: Peter Hammill (Van Der Graaf Generator), Colin Edwin & Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Robert Fripp (King Crimson), Julianne Regan (All About Eve), Jim Matheos (O.S.I., Fates Warning) and Huxflux Nettermalm (Paatos).
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on May 24th, 2012