STEVEN WILSON, The Future Bites (Caroline, 2021). Not one to let his fans shape his musical destiny, Steven Wilson explores the electronically pop-driven side of himself by way of The Future Bites, an album about as far removed from progressive rock as can be imagined, much to the dismay of his many prog rock purist fans.
The record explores the culture of runaway consumerism, usually by way of the Internet, and how it has hopelessly altered the ideals and ambitions of the people affected by it. The sounds Wilson uses to convey this thought process must be seen as ironic in some way, right up to the cameo appearance by Elton John (a self-confessed shopaholic).
The tracks all but push the guitar aside in favor of electronic driven beats and synthesizers coupled with Wilson’s often falsetto-oriented voice. This music will never be confused with Porcupine Tree, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Fans looking for those classic prog rock sounds should check their expectations at the door, or avoid entering the room altogether.
The Future Bites is the inevitable album Wilson was bound to produce, given his love for pop acts like ABBA. It is an itch he no doubt has been eager to scratch for some time. True music fans would do well to give the album a listen, preferably without bringing along the burden of expectation. It will be interesting to see where Wilson’s Muse takes him from here.
STEPHAN THELEN, Fractal Guitar 2, (MoonJune, 2021). Guitarist Stephan Thelen (best known for his work in the Swiss quartet Sonar) continues his highly mathematical — but incredibly groovy — prog rock exploration in a follow-up to his highly successful Fractal Guitar album, appropriately called Fractal Guitar 2 (out March 21).
Rather than offer more of the same, Thelen manages to up the experimental ante with more synthesizers, keyboards, and slightly off-the-wall guitar sounds. Guests like Markus Reuter (Touch Guitar U8), Andy Brugger (drums), Barry Cleveland (guitar), Fabio Anile (keyboards), David Torn (guitar) and a host of others help bring Thelen’s vision to light by creating a dynamic collection of loops, soundscapes, and grooves to make music for the highly adventurous.
The repetitive grooves lay the foundation for sophisticated leads and effects making for a patchwork series of highly textural compositions unlike anything else out there. Do NOT miss this one!
MARY HALVORSON’S CODE GIRL, Artlessly Falling (2020). Picking up nicely where Code Girl left off, guitarist Mary Halvorson continues to explore jazz’s outer limits one Artlessly Falling. She uses her uniquely oblique sound in wonderful tandem with an equally earnest horn section to create the most intriguing melodies.
Vocalist Amirtha Kidambi returns with her fascinating vocal stylings, but this time she shares that duty with prog legend Robert Wyatt, who lends his voice to three of the album’s tunes. The combination makes for a remarkable point/counterpoint effect, keeping things delightfully off-balance and challenging listeners to keep up with this journey into the near avant-garde.
The music’s overall tone is playful and boundary pushing without being obnoxious or full of itself. This is the perfect record for those seeking jazz from off the beaten path.
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Steven Wilson is always moving on – I understand why some of his fans don’t like his new direction and I respect their opinions. I think The Future Bites is a great album – see my review here http://nick-holmes-music.com/2021/01/29/album-review-the-future-bites-by-steven-wilson/
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I was surprised not to see a more forensic examination of TFB, given your admiration for the artist known as SW. But I guess I wasn’t surprised to see another review suggesting only “true music fans” should apply – that seems to be the common mantra across the breadth of reviews I’ve read.
But what’s a true music fan? How do you qualify that distinction? Those same fans who enjoy SW’s more proggy music probably feel they’re true music fans as well. They buy real music by real artists, and to be fair, they’re entitled to share an opinion, even if others disagree with it. In fact, if you’ve followed any of SW’s recent interviews, you’d realise that even he doesn’t want to see fans being labelled for sharing alternative opinions.
I liked the album, no reservations, but I’m not sure I’d consider myself “true” – a music fan , yes, but unwilling to be lumped into either of the “for” or “against” camps that have sprung up. I’m happy to have heard the album, glad the relentless hype is over, and having popped it back on the shelf, I’m ready to enjoy other equally deserving albums. After all, it’s still “Music”.
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Because of the sheer volume of music work I’m doing (including interviews, podcasts, magazine articles, and the new book), I’ve decided to embrace a new format featuring much shorter reviews. Even this review was a bit longer than I wanted it to be.
I have no problem with people disliking the record and saying as much. What I DO have a problem with is people refusing to give the record a listen because of their own preset parameters of what an artist should be and do musically, based on the listener’s often narrow personal tastes. Those who can avoid that approach are “true” music fans to me. Whether or not they like the music is beside the point.
I listened to The Future Bites today and quite liked it. It may not be as exciting as some of SW’s previous work but I certainly don’t hear anything to moan about. Robert Wyatt on the Code Girl album is intriguing but overall it was all too alien for me on first listening. Really looking forward to Fractal Guitar 2, though.
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Code Girl grows on you. It shocked me at first, too. But once you settle in and hear where everything is coming from, it all comes together.