Released: Jan 22, 2016
Genre: Progressive Rock, Art Rock
Number Of Tracks: 6
Although not quite the full experience of an in-depth Steven Wilson album, this collection of varied and fine tuned material is a great piece of progressive art.
4 1/2Featured review by: UG Team, on february 11, 2016 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: "4 ½" is somewhat of an interesting foray for venerable prog legend Steven Wilson. Being the 5th in a line of solo albums since the hiatus of his main work Porcupine Tree, his solo career has seen him go into much more varied, concept driven territory.
The previous release "Hand. Cannot. Erase." was a very interesting concept album based around the original narrative of a woman living in a city and ends up being isolated and forgotten about for 3 years. Although it divided a small sampling of fans, the foray into electronic production elements added a certain refreshment to Wilson's well established writing style while also making the album it's own little unique monument in the genre.
But as with the transition from "The Raven That Refused to Sing" to "Hand. Cannot. Erase.," "4 ½" steps further away from it's predecessor and in general, it feels like a conglomeration of all of Wilson's solo albums compiled into one very short release.
This is, of course, short by prog standards: the fact that it's still nearly 10 minutes longer than "Reign in Blood" kind of makes the term "mini album" feel a bit weightless.
But moving on. The overall tone of this album could be summed as "soft prog." From The Beatles-esque opening "My Book of Regrets," the upbeat and bouncy "Happiness III" (also featuring a less-whacky-than-usual Guthrie Govan) to the depressed and spooky jazz sound of "Sunday Rain Sets In," there's no lack of the beautifully written prog that is expected of a Steven Wilson release.
"Year of the Plague" is perhaps one of the most intriguing and whimsical song that Wilson has penned. An evolving, layered instrumental that feels like it could be it's own focal point for an entirely different album, it brings out images of blue skies and sunlight breaking through tree branches.
That may just be that it presses all the same emotive buttons that Japanese composers (such as Hitoshi Sakimoto) like to indulge in but it's still a fantastic piece.
The thing is, although it's still a very strong Steven Wilson record, its purpose as a bridge between albums feels a little bit weak.
"How does that work out?" you might ask.
Well, these songs are unfortunately not a cohesive set written at the same time and this leads to a mild disconnect between the feel of each individual piece. For instance, while the (unabashedly addictive and groovy) "Vermillioncore" was written in 2013, "Don't Hate Me" is almost 20 years old (originally from the "Stupid Dream" album) and "Year of the Plague" is essentially an uncredited extra from "The Raven..." The jarring nature between "Happiness III" and "Sunday Rain..." is a strange turning point for the album as it almost threatens to split into two separate entities. This could be wholly off-putting to the sorts who listen to entire albums in one go and the overall tonal disconnect between this and "Hand..." is again, jarring.
That said, it's still more Steven Wilson, it's still got the detailed, exploratory, varied and dense compositions he is known for, just in a less overwhelming, bit sized chunk. // 8
Lyrics: If there's one thing that there's never a need for doubt for, it's Wilson's vocal ability. His honest and narrator-like approach is still on top form and gives a significant drive to the album despite it being mostly instrumental in nature.
Although there is still the usual slew of guest musicians, there are few guest vocalists on this album, the most prominent being Israeli singer Ninet Tayab on "Don't Hate Me." Her inclusion does differentiate the track from its original version, even if it is still the odd one out of bunch.
Lyrically, "4 ½" certainly seems, on the face of things, to tie into the concept laid out in "Hand. Cannot. Erase." This is where the inclusion of "Don't Hate Me" seems most logical, as its lyrical theme has been re-appropriated for the album.
"My Book of Regrets" bears the more striking connection. Its expertly evocative phrasing adds more depth to the hopelessness-fueld storyline developed in "Hand..." even if the harmonic nature of the music is much more joyful sounding. A lyrical example:
"In the back of a taxi cab in London town All passed out and dreaming on the underground Yes, I'm someone but I'm no-one all the same." // 8
Overall Impression: Even though it's not a full album and it has the odd foible to it's cohesiveness as a whole, "4 ½" is still a strong release that offers some of the best and most varied examples of Steven Wilson's solo work.
Despite appearing to be only a bridge between albums (or "filler of space" if we're being needlessly cynical), the fact that the lyrical theme appears to have crossed over from album to album may give an indication to what the next album might be, but who knows, it's all up in the air at this point.
Songs to look out for: it's short enough for a "the whole damn thing" recommendation but personal favourites are "Year of the Plague," "Sunday Rain Sets In" and "My Book of Regrets." // 8
aenimafist, on february 12, 2016 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: 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. // 9
Lyrics: "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. // 8
Overall Impression: 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. // 9