Review Summary: A merger of all of Steven Wilson's musical tastes, from Bass Communion's ambience and harsh noise to Blackfield's soaring melodies, "Insurgentes" is unlike any other record ever made. While progressive, "Insurgentes" truly defies classification and is an 3 of 4 thought this review was well written
Music as an art form has lost much appreciation in major music circles. Songs are often revered for their catchy melodies and other qualities that make the four-minute pop songs of today worthwhile; however, when music becomes challenging or avant-garde, many find the music too “difficult” and “inaccessible” and dismiss it as “pretentious.” However, if many took the time to invest in these “pretentious” recordings, they might find that the music within such albums is actually deeply gratifying, rewarding, and invigorating. Steven Wilson’s debut solo album Insurgentes is one such record; an album that is a grand, majestic collection of songs that transcends what people often pigeonhole music to be.
Wilson, one of Britain’s finest working musicians, is known for having many different musical avenues; his main outfit is the progressive rock band Porcupine Tree, who began in the late eighties as a Wilson-only psychedelic experiment, who since then have evolved into an atmospheric progressive rock band. Other avenues include the art-rock duo of Wilson and Bowness called No-Man, Wilson’s first major recording venue; Blackfield, the duo of Wilson and Israeli rock star Aviv Geffen, who specialize in extraordinarily well written pop/rock songs; and Bass Communion (which Wilson describes as his most personal project), Wilson’s solo efforts at crafting ambient and drone based pieces. (Aside from projects he is directly involved in, he also produces and mixes many albums, namely the recent remix of the classic King Crimson record In the Court of the Crimson King). His palate is broad, and Insurgentes reflects that; it is truly Wilson’s masterwork, a culmination of all of his musical tastes and styles into a cohesive LP that transcends above all other work he has done.
Overall, the album cannot be classified into a single genre; perhaps “singer/songwriter,” but even that genre carries with it certain stigmas that don’t fully apply to this record. The album covers many different musical soundscapes, ranging from harsh drones to tranquil piano-based pieces. Each song, while having a unique “Wilsonian” touch, also possess remnants of projects that Wilson is already involved in. Elements of Bass Communion's drone-based works can be found in tracks like "Abandoner" and "Get All You Deserve;" elements of Porcupine Tree's prog are elements in tracks like "Harmony Korine;" "Veneno Para Las Hadas" is a a mixture of No-Man melancholy and Porcupine Tree's early psychedelic work; and "Significant Other" is, as one reviewer at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page noted, "Blackfield on acid," a track that magnifies the melodious sounds of Blackfield with harsh, dissonant noise. This broad scope of the record gives it a fresh sense of innovation on a track-to-track basis while still managing to preserve the LP as a whole, cohesive unit.
“Harmony Korine” (named after the filmmaker, although having nothing to do with him lyrically), the album’s single, opens the album beautifully, with a rather elegant main riff driving the song. “Abandoner,” a much darker piece, immediately follows, providing an excellent change in tone. The song is primarily driven by a processed beat and sparse acoustic guitars; halfway through the song, however, a dark and heavy guitar drone breaks the gloomy tranquility of the song until, suddenly, the drone ends and the quiet of the main refrain picks back up. This song highlights one of Wilson’s greatest talents in juxtaposing harsh noise and moments of calm peace, an effect used more than once on this album. “Salvaging,” the ‘epic’ of the record, is driven by snarling vocal delivery, heavy riffing, and a classical string interlude (performed by the London Session Orchestra) that is breathtakingly beautiful. “Veneno Para las Hadas,” whose main, delay-driven riff evokes Porcupine Tree’s 1995 Floydian epic The Sky Moves Sideways, is a lovely, tranquil piece featuring Theo Travis, a common Wilson collaborator, providing some clarinet melodies.
The album then picks up with “No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun,” the album’s longest track, a King Crimson-esque progressive jazz jam, featuring some furious guitar shredding and a lovely piano interlude, played by Dream Theater keyboard virtuoso Jordan Rudess. “Significant Other” is the highlight of the record, a glorious post-punk anthem featuring an incredibly beautiful main melody. In this song, Wilson utilizes the juxtaposition of noise to tranquility in the best manner he has done; as the song comes to a close, the main riff, accompanied by some harsh noise in the background, reaches its climax and then suddenly stops, abruptly dissipating into a fragile glockenspiel, which reprises the main melody as the song ends. “Only Child” is driven by some excellent bass guitar by Tony Levin. “Twilight Coda,” a brief instrumental interlude, is highlighted by Jordan Rudess’ excellent minor key piano melody, giving a haunting intro into “Get All You Deserve,” a dark, spectral piano ballad that culminates in a ferocious guitar drone. “Insurgentes” closes the album rather beautifully, featuring Wilson on piano accompanied by Japanese koto virtuoso Michiyo Yagi on a 17-string bass koto.
Insurgentes is a revelation, a musical work of art that avoids the constraints of the modern mainstream and instead embraces a musical vision that is Wilson’s own. This is an album that is beautiful not only in a sonic sense but in an artistic sense as well. While Wilson will no doubt in the future add many more records to his already gargantuan discography (totaling about 367 pages in PDF format), this record is at this point his masterwork, a symbol of his uncompromised musical vision, something to admire in the era of cheaply made pop music. This is music as art, and it is a masterpiece.