Review Summary: Blackfield sound more focused and consistent than they have in years by allowing a surprisingly optimistic vision shine through a blissful concept album.
Blackfield is the most accessible band that Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree fame has been involved in, despite maintaining the melancholic tone present in his main projects. The group has been an outlet for him to shift away from progressive rock and metal in favor of a straightforward brand of art rock, while still retaining the emotional weight present in his music. V marks a return of equal songwriting credits between Wilson and collaborator Aviv Geffen, the latter being more accustomed to this style in his solo material. The previous two albums were more comprised of his vision while Wilson focused on his own solo albums. This latest from Blackfield returns to the strengths and compositional focus seen on their first two records, despite the expected somberness being largely absent this time. Hallmarks of the more upbeat Porcupine Tree era are notable, with many tracks recalling the more mainstream nature of Stupid Dream
and Lightbulb Sun
. Those wishing for more of that sound from Wilson will likely not get anything closer to it than this. Blackfield sound more optimistic and focused than they have in years, with Wilson and Geffen allowing a surprisingly optimistic vision shine through their soaring, blissful concept album.
Wilson’s songwriting has never sounded as content, or as straightforward, as it does on V. Blackfield was always the least abstract project he’s written for, and V comes as the most easily digestible album of his career. For the most part he is able to return the project back to its former glory, while bringing the band’s sound to more hopeful territory. Tracks like “We’ll Never Be Apart” and “Life is an Ocean” function as straightforward chapters in the concept of V and exude hypnotic qualities. They, along with a few other tracks, might feel more like interludes than fully fleshed out songs upon first listening. Many of them resemble brief, yet satisfying musical vignettes, which might in fact be their actual purpose. This is after all meant to be more of a complete listening experience from Blackfield than before, being a loose concept album centered on the ocean and cycles of life. These lofty themes are given weight by the variety of sounds produced in V, lending to the deceptively simple nature of it.
There is plenty going on instrumentally despite the more straightforward approach, with lush compositions making for a dreamy listening experience. “Undercover Heart,” for example, features swelling violins and beautifully intertwined male and female vocals, making for an incredible build-up and climax by its end. Hearing diverse instrumentation like violins and mellotrons will come as no surprise to those familiar with Wilson’s work, with V also gleaning from other boundary pushing modern rock music as well. The gorgeous instrumental “Salt Water” recalls “.3” by Porcupine Tree, while strings reminiscent of those heard in A Moon Shaped Pool
by Radiohead come up in “October.” A possible nod towards David Bowie, specifically his declarations of "I'm a blackstar...
" from the monolith track “Blackstar” comes in the form of the robotic chanting, "I’m a lonely soul,
" in the titular track. It’s possible that Wilson and Geffen experienced a surge of personal inspiration during this album cycle, given the climate of excellent, forward thinking rock music from the past couple years.
The sublime qualities of V are made possible from a variety of creative decisions, including a fully realized presence by Wilson, as well as the production and mixing. As a special treat for the listener, Wilson and Geffen are joined by legendary producer Alan Parsons of The Dark Side of the Moon
by Pink Floyd to work on the three lead singles, “Family Man”, “How Was Your Ride",” and “Sorrys.” V is able to maintain a consistent, dreamy feel with how the sounds are mixed, similar to the rich qualities of Currents
by Tame Impala and Wilson’s recent solo material. Despite the personal connections that could be drawn to other modern music for certain listeners, V is not a derivative record by any means. It sounds very much like its own creation, fitting snugly into the Blackfield canon and being their best work in nearly a decade. V is a welcome return to the consistency of I and II, being an elegant return to form for Blackfield while brightening their sound just enough to remain recognizable.