The Harmony Codex

Steven Wilson

Independent release, 2023

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Although 2022’s brief Porcupine Tree reunion was a gift for fans, it also felt like a goodbye, not least because the album was called Closure/Continuation. Wilson has felt like a solo artist for the last decade, using his albums as a means to explore electronica, pop and more modern sounds without the moniker of “progressive rock” that the PT name brought to mind.

Not that his albums aren’t forward-thinking, but they’re also less likely to rely on tricky time signatures, multi-part compositions and callbacks to earlier prog giants. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Harmony Codex is the latest in this line, a 10-song outing based on a short story Wilson wrote that is immediately modern and bracing, referencing bits and pieces of Wilson’s previous output but always looking forward. The story, it should be noted, was revealed in Wilson’s 2022 autobiography.

The album is a bit icy and distant, particularly in the more instrumental second half. Synthesizers are more prevalent here than guitars, but the album is balanced throughout, buffeted with Wilson’s harmony vocals and emotive guest vocals from Ninet Tayeb on some tracks. Most of the music is contemplative, beautiful to listen to but difficult to really feel, most notably the ambient title track that arrives in the middle of the album.

Highlights (many of which were used for singles) are the guitar-driven “What Life Brings,” the most conventional song here but also one of Wilson’s best in a while. Tayeb’s soulful, bluesy vocals and a killer Niko Tsonev guitar solo bring some emotion to “Rock Bottom,” while “Impossible Tightrope” is a blend of electronica, jazz, light funk and ambient soundscapes; it’s impressive, and forward-thinking, everything prog should be regardless of the instruments used.

In fact, the more one sits with this disc—not just on the accessible tracks, but on more complex tracks like the closing “Staircase” and “Actual Brutal Facts”—the more one appreciates what Wilson is trying to do here and the journey that is this album. In many ways, this is what prog should look like in the 21st century, something that defies genre and blends sounds to push ahead. It’s not perfect; some trimming on the title cut would have been nice, and the opener “Inclination” is just too soulless and mechanical to really hit, but these are minor missteps in an otherwise adventurous and bold album.

Rating: B

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