Something that's very impressive about Steven Wilson is that, despite the musical variety of his different bands and projects, his work usually keeps a consistent tone about it nonetheless. His albums always maintain that penchant for moody, melancholic rock combined with many progressive elements. Even in a band like Porcupine Tree whose newer material is heavier and generally more intense, that dark and murky mindset continues to lurk beneath those sonic assaults. So when Wilson's project Blackfield (in which he partnered up with Israeli musician Aviv Geffen) was announced back in 2001, the question was: in what musical direction was Steven Wilson going to carry that melancholic mindset? Well, Blackfield offers a more mellow, alternative sound reminiscent of Porcupine Tree's 2000 album Lightbulb Sun, as shown on the 2004 self-titled debut (and future releases as well).
This album's sound is usually described as a more stripped-down version of Porcupine Tree's music, focusing less on instrumentation and more on simpler songwriting and emotional weight, as well as lots of musical "layers." Since this is a collaboration between both Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen, you basically get the best of both worlds. There's the progressive, melancholic side of Wilson as well as the poppier side of Geffen. Stylistically, the album is a grab bag of sorts; for instance, "Open Mind" has lots of Pink Floyd influence in the acoustic guitar work and lush vocal harmonies that begin it, "The Hole in Me" and "Scars" sport multiple tempo and time signature changes, and "Scars" has a King Crimson-esque string backdrop to support the chorus. In other words, the album maintains a lot of diversity. Luckily things never get too cluttered songwriting-wise, so time's always being used wisely. The best part of this album, however, is its atmosphere.
Similar to Porcupine Tree's work, Wilson makes sure to coat much of the music in multiple layers of instrumentation; this is particularly effective for atmosphere in certain songs' climaxes. A great example is the end of "Cloudy Now"; for the most part, the song is a very somber ballad. Out of nowhere, the song just explodes near its conclusion; distorted vocals come in to chant that "we are a f*cked up generation." Meanwhile, a giant wall of sound is backing the vocals as the guitars and drums collide. As mentioned before though, it doesn't get out of hand; the band know when enough is enough. Another instance of heavy musical layering is with the aforementioned "The Hole in Me." The chorus in this song is absolutely gorgeous; there are soaring vocal harmonies, guitar chords that compliment the vocal melodies perfectly, the works. The chorus wouldn't be nearly as effective or crushingly melancholic without the heavily multitracked vocal work or the thick layers of vivid musical imagery in its instrumentation.
As I said before, there's also a very stripped-down side to all of this. "Lullaby," "Summer," "Glow," "Cloudy Now," and the title track all have many moments of isolation at varying degrees. Whether it be the simple yet effective C Major piano line of "Lullaby," the moody acoustic strums of the nostalgic "Summer," or the completely depressing synth-and-string combination that makes up most of "Glow," there are many ways in which the band express different forms of musical simplicity. That kind of stuff is what makes this album work; the album is so fueled on emotion that it's pretty fascinating. The lyricism follows suit, going for themes of love, depression, happiness, and other broad emotional topics. The big downside to things is that the music does start to run together a bit after a while. The stripped-down aspect gets slightly old and you'll sometimes be waiting for climaxes to get more, well, climactic. Also, the lyricism can get a bit too simple; the band rarely leave the topics mentioned above, so there's not much variety there.
Other than those minor flaws, this album is pretty damn great. The emotion and elegant songwriting are really what pull this album through. While some may consider this a second-rate Porcupine Tree record, it's certainly much more than that. It shows what two completely different musicians can really do when coming together as one cohesive force. This is definitely recommended, especially for fans of early 2000s Porcupine Tree and alternative/pop rock.