Porcupine Tree

Snapper Music, 1996

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


The Sky Moves Sideways is often thought to be the first proper Porcupine Tree album, but it still felt very much a Steven Wilson solo album. Signify, released one year later, is thought to be the first actual band album… and also the one where Wilson shed the “next Pink Floyd” tag and expanded his songwriting and horizons, resulting in one of the band’s strongest outings.

Some may see this as a transition album between the space-rock of the earlier efforts and the more epic rock opuses that followed (In Absentia, Fear Of A Blank Planet, The Incident), but to do that does Signify a disservice. This album is full of interesting ideas, moments of instrumental exploration both ambient and aggressive, mixed with solid prog-rock that rarely, if ever, feels like showing off. Certainly, very few bands were making music like this in the mid-90s.

“Waiting Phase Two,” for example, mixes hand percussion and a light cymbal while the keyboards float over top, feeling like a slow march into a jungle, until after three minutes of foreboding the real drums kick in and the piece then explodes into guitar pyrotechnics. As a companion piece to the more straightforward “Waiting Phase One,” together the piece makes up the 10-minute center of the album, though only one of the many highlights.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Idiot Prayer” is probably the best song, if one had to pick, though albums like this work well as a whole and there’s not really a bad track here anyway. The piece moves through a frenetic instrumental workout, stopping for reflection for a few minutes, then charging back in with a cranked-up fuzzed-out guitar riff and Chris Maitland’s aggressive drumming; note the excellent bass work throughout as well from Colin Edwin. “Every Home Is Wired” then follows, a spacy acoustic sci-fi piece with some lovely circular vocal layering in the chorus; unfortunately, the song runs out of steam after three minutes and devolves into some noodling around, only bringing things back at the very end when it’s too late.

“The Sleep Of No Dreaming” is confidently epic in sound, while “Signify” rides a strong rock riff, the song alternately throttling and slowing, a journey in only three and a half minutes. That’s progress in itself, for this genre, and that it comes as only the second track signifies that Porcupine Tree (the band) was no mere imitators of bands from 20 years prior. “Intermediate Jesus” is probably the most psychedelic song here, succeeding only because Maitland refuses to find a groove and therefore keeps the song on its toes; you keep feeling like something is going to break soon – maybe in your own mind – and Wilson’s guitar fills accentuate this feeling.

The album has a few brief moody interludes to break things up (“Pagan,” “Bornlivedie,” the interminable “Light Mass Prayers”), which do little more than give the listener a chance to catch up. The disc closes with the nine-minute “Dark Matter,” a smooth-jazz-meets-space-prog track that gets mileage from its spare drumming, acoustic guitar fills and the swirling keyboards; the fuzz guitar shows up about five minutes in and the song becomes a guitar showcase for the final runtime. One review compared this to a Gabriel-era Genesis track, but that’s not accurate. It's a Porcupine Tree track, and this is a very good album.

Rating: B+

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