Nowadays, it seems that `albums' are actually a collection of singles, with some extra songs thrown in there in order to put the running time up to around 40-50 minutes. Steven Wilson's new album, `Grace for Drowning' is not a collection of singles, and it wasn't intended to be either. It's an epic musical journey, that lasts much longer than your average record. At just over eighty minutes in length, `Grace for Drowning' is an incredible amount of music to take in, hence why it's taken me so long to make my mind up about it. The record is divided into two sections, or individual `albums', the first called `Deform to Form a Star', and the second called `Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye'.
The first disc opens with the album's title track, a beautiful combination of Wilson's vocal harmonies and Jordan Rudess's piano. It`s only a short introductory piece, but it gives you a good idea of what is to come - an epic progressive soundscape. `Sectarian' is mostly a throwback to the darker side of 70's progressive rock (a theme which is dominant throughout the entire record) whilst `Deform to Form a Star' is the complete opposite, because it sounds like a track that wouldn't have looked out of place on Porcupine Tree's `Lightbulb Sun' album.
My favourite track on the first disc has to be the album's first single,`Postcard'. It's an incredibly sad and emotive song, but it's got some sort of unnerving beauty that sets it apart from the other tracks on the disc. `Remainder the Black Dog' an oddly titled long progressive jazz piece closes out the first disc nicely. The second disc begins with `Belle De Jour' another introductory piece that made me feel a little happier after coming out of the long dark passages of `Remainder the Black Dog' over on disc 1. Steven shows his electronic influence in `Index' a dark and disturbing track based on `The Collector' a short story about a man who killed butterflies, and put them in glass containers. The music video for this song actually depicts Steven playing the role of `the collector', and it has several shots of butterflies and insects stored in containers, so you can clearly see the influence. The song slowly builds into an epic crescendo of electronic beats and orchestral strings, to great effect.`Track One', another oddly titled song follows, and it starts out as a quiet guitar/vocal piece before delving abruptly into a loud soundscape.
However, the best of the second disc is to be found within `Raider II', `Grace for Drowning's epic 23 minute track, which is filled with just about everything. It's the center piece of the entire record, and it's clearly the track that Steven took the most time over making perfect. The second disc closes out with it's title track `Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye'. It's another ballad, akin to `Deform to Form a Star' but it's a little bit more melancholic, and it slowly closes out the record with a long, ambient section towards the end.
I purchased the deluxe edition of the record, which came with a Blu-ray disc with the album in 5.1 surround sound, plus music videos for five of the tracks, plus a third CD containing bonus tracks and a demo of `Raider II'.`Fluid Tap' and `Home in Negative' are the only bonus tracks to actually have lyrics, with `The Map' being a dark electronic instrumental, and `Black Dog Throwbacks' and `Raider Acceleration' just being alternate versions of `Remainder the Black Dog' and `Raider II' from the standard album. `Raider Acceleration' is actually a section that was originally intended to be featured in `Raider II', but then replaced with a different section. You can hear how the song sounded originally in the demo version of `Raider II'.
Overall, Steven Wilson has created a very unique record that won't appeal to everyone, but it rewards the listener more and more with each and every playback.
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