Sound — 9
Steven Wilson has historically been the musician version of that car that your weird uncle has been driving since 1984; a bit kooky at times, long in the (musical) tooth, but 100% reliable in delivering you where you want to go. With Porcupine Tree still on a frustrating hiatus, Stevey-prog has been busy at work short off the release of "Hand. Cannot. Erase." just under a year ago. Much of the material here originated as extra stuff that didn't quite make it onto his last two records. With "4 1/2" he brings us a 37-minute album which for poor-as-dirt grad students with no time is a useful object for which to provide a review. In fact, it's short enough that I am completely unashamed of a track-by-track rundown of Stevey-prog's Damnation- and Riverside-invoked work.
Lyrics — 8
"My Book of Regrets" - I want to hate that the low-E string sounds so out of tune at times due to tonal oscillation but, as the unintending master of that anomaly, I shall refrain from comment. Stevey-prog frequently plans his albums almost like a baseball line-up with the first track being an all around solid player deficient in no areas of skill. "My Book of Regrets" contains a solid amount of variety but isn't so catchy as to steal the show from the get-go.
"Year of the Plague" - Wow. Few challengers for the title of "best summer sadness song" would field a better showing than "Year of the Plague." Beautiful orchestral/acoustic piece with advanced chordal arrangements. Really brings out the memories of that relationship you screwed up back when you were and idiot who knew everything.
"Happiness III" - Definitely going to get radio play on my show at University. Certainly the most accessible song on the album, which of course for Stevey-prog means 27 borrowed chords, 43 modal shifts, and, actually, zero bars of 13/16 time. But the title lies not, super upbeat and a well-placed (and somewhat rare) happy song.
"Sunday Rain Sets In" - Kind of a bizarre instrumental track here. Begins kind of in the manner in which "Year of the Plague" left off and finishes with a quixotic arrangement of imbroglioic sounds resulting in what comes across as a long segue into "Vermillioncore." I would be curious to know what other stuff he loft off the album, but this song kept "4 1/2" from simply being released as an EP.
"Vermillioncore" - While the transition from the oddly-ended "Sunday Rain Sets In" to this piece is about as smooth as driving from one rocky road onto another, "Vermillioncore" will undoubtedly please long-time Porcupine Tree fans as the upbeat passages invoke memories of Fear of a Blank Planet while the riffs themselves hearken to "In Absentia" and "Deadwing." Definitely going to create a tab for this one.
"Don't Hate Me" - Speaking of Porcupine Tree, the first album of theirs I ever purchased contains the original version of this song. However, this rendering of "Don't Hate Me" features Ninet Tayeb on chorus vocals! Famous for her highly built-up profile in Israel, Tayeb's contribution to the recording is highly evocative of how Lee Douglas performs with Anathema.
Overall Impression — 9
If Stevey-prog is beginning to get into the perennial habit of intermittent releases like this, bring 'em on. Although, dropping $15 on what is essentially a long EP and in between album clearly now labels Kscope as the financially hipster record company of the century, seeing as the digital is only $7. All the same, in spite of its ridiculously short length, "4 1/2" is an indication that Stevey-prog isn't running out of ideas yet, and we should look ahead with subdued fan-girl anticipation for the next release. Assuming you are a real music collector, "4 1/2" certainly deserves a spot on your shelf.