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Producer, writer, and musician Steven Wilson released his second solo album "Grace for Drowning," on September 27, 2011. Building on his artistic depth that has made him a twice Grammy winner, the new release is more experimental and eclectic that his first outing "insurgence." Wilson says, "It's my biggest project to date," and includes slowly changing pictures that accompany the music.
We suggest skipping the double CD version, and getting the Blu-ray edition featuring the album in 5.1 surround sound, 2 bonus tracks, 5 films, 6 'work in progress' demo versions, and a gallery. If ordered from Burning Shed, the Blu-ray edition also comes with a drop card containing a code to download a digital version of the album.
At first listen some songs may seem to far out and experimental, after digging in deeper the sensibility of this lengthy release will grab the listener and take them on an engaging journey. Wilson invited a stunning list of guest musicians to play, including Jordan Rudess' on grand piano on "Deform to Form a Star" which sounds nothing like he's done in Dream Theater, along with Tony Levin hitting a strong low-end on bass, and Pat Mastolotto playing on, "No Part of Me," during which the instrumental break is punctuated by Trey Gunn's heavy guitar. Meanwhile, easy to recognize is Steve Hackett's guitar work on "Remainder the Black Dog" featuring his gorgeous fretwork.
When it comes to the surround mix and audio quality of Grace for Drowning, be ready to have an ecstatic experience, part of which can be attributed to Mastering Engineer Paschal Byrne. Wilson has numerous surround mixes under his belt, including a few from his band Porcupine Tree, and remixes of several King Crimson classics, along with Jethro Tull's Aqualung and a couple by No Man, and the critically acclaimed In the Land of Grey and Pink by Caravan. The audio quality of Grace for Drowning is superlative, with crystal clear guitars and vocals, along with the vast array of instrumentation on this release sounding better than any other recording we have heard. Wilson makes heavy use of a plethora of effects that include shimmering all-encompassing reverbs, modulated flanges that wave widely across the soundscape , along with guitars, voices, and other instruments that move deep into the distance and through the center of the four main channels, among scads of other sensations including EastWest sounds.
We absolutely love "Belle De Jour", which simply has the most eloquent sounding nylon string guitars ever recorded. We feel like the listener can reach out and touch Wilson's fingers while he moves among the chords that carry us through the song. The London Session Orchestra ads a sensational layer of musicality to this piece, as well as on several other tracks.
The Blu-Ray includes five films, which are essentially slow moving pictures that accompany the music. We found it somewhat disappointing that we needed to constantly return to the menu to view the next song's film. Regardless, they are well worth the watch, and we especially found plenty of eye candy on "Track One," which was released on YouTube in advance of the album. When seen on Blu-Ray, the images are absolutely stunning, while the surround mix bombards the listener during a few crescendos. At the high points a wall of sound encircled us with a barrage of guitars, basses, synths, and whatever else would shake us from our seats.
The album peaks with the 23 minute "Radier II" during which we are taken on an incredible trip. Early King Crimson influences are bountiful here, from the heavy guitar driven sections to the jazz influenced sections featuring Theo Travis playing flute, clarinet, and sax. Influences aside, Wilson has written an outrageous piece of music that stretches the listener between the murky depths below the water and rising to the sky where tonality serves up dissonance. At points the soundscape directs us through passages, around corners, and caresses us with soothing sounds, before blanketing us with a scorching aural sensation. In our best judgment, Grace for Drowning is dynamically rich and best listened at deliberately high volumes.
Any fan of progressive rock and hard rock is advised to pick up this five star album. While we prefer the Blu-Ray version, analog fans can also find this release in a double vinyl set.
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