“Raider II” is hardly the first epic Steven Wilson has written, considering even his early years were so influenced by krautrock and psychedelia that his demo tapes were filled with longform compositions like “The Nostalgia Factory”. Further, some of the most adored Porcupine Tree songs of recent years — “Anesthetize”, “Arriving Somewhere, but Not Here”, “Deadwing”, “Time Flies”, and so on — continue to push song length and epic composition in a truly progressive fashion. Yet “Raider” does have the distinction of being the first epic-length song in SW’s solo catalogue; where “Salvaging” and “No Twilight in the Courts of the Sun” use extended length on his first solo outing, Insurgentes, only penultimate track “Get All You Deserve” actually evolves to an epic climax (and it only runs 6 minutes!). The compositions extended greatly for his second effort, Grace for Drowning, but none come anywhere near the 23 minutes of “Raider”… and none of the others particularly sound that similar to it, either.
On the heels of three albums focused on songwriting and presenting collections of mostly separate songs without a particular framework, Porcupine Tree returned to their conceptual roots in 2005 with Deadwing. Across its hour-long running time, the album explores and interprets a screenplay co-written by Steven Wilson and Mike Bennion with a tapestry of sounds and moods accentuating often ambiguous lyrics and Lasse Hoile’s collage-esque visuals. The effect is mysterious and randomized, the presented story neither contiguous nor linear.
The album itself, however, hangs together fairly well. No particular song seems to take away from the intended sonic approach, one Deadwing mostly shares with its predecessor, In Absentia — big, metal-esque guitars, driving and complex drum rhythms from Gavin Harrison, a solid bass ‘bed’ by the often understated Colin Edwin, all glued together by the atmospherics with which SW and Richard Barbieri have become so excellent at using to accentuating the song structures. Even “Shallow”, a simplistic song that very clearly screams ‘make me a single’ (and so it was!), still fits the manic and bizarre approach of the title track, the dynamics and time changes of “Open Car”, the dramatic choruses of “The Start of Something Beautiful”, and the explosive, balls-to-the-wall midsection of “Arriving Somewhere… but Not Here.”
“Strip the Soul” and “.3” both appear on Porcupine Tree’s award-winning album In Absentia, often cited as one of Steven Wilson’s favourites in his pantheon of works. However, the two tracks are a very unique example in this pantheon, and have a relationship quite unlike the vast majority of other PT songs. Rather than the usual romp through a full release in the back catalog, let’s take a look at the various incarnations of these two tracks and examine their relationship in full.
One of three cassettes made under the Porcupine Tree name by Steven Wilson in the late 1980s, The Love, Death & Mussolini EP was only released privately (in 10 copies!). Along with Tarquin’s Seaweed Farm and The Nostalgia Factory full-lengths, it forms nearly the entirety of SW’s early material that would later be compiled on the On the Sunday of Life… and Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape CDs (with some tracks left out). However, it remains the ‘black sheep’ of this early wealth of material, as it was not released to the public through Freakbeat magazine as the other two cassettes were; both Tarquin and Nostalgia would sell out all 300 copies each, spurring on the creation of Delerium Records and thus the distribution of every PT release until the turn of the new millennium.
Oddly, the cassette runs 40 minutes, which would disqualify its status as an EP. This is comically addressed in the cassette’s liner notes, which state that it “takes advantage of the cassette medium” by providing “an extra 17 minutes of music, taking it to long player length” and that this is “known as ‘value for money’.” The best lines follow this explanation: “In the music industry, it is known as ‘marketing.’ Do your accounting to the sound of Porcupine Tree.” SW’s wit was clearly flourishing with this outlet!
And not just in the liner notes. Over the span of its 40 minutes, LD&M travels through a wide variety of genres and approaches, and most of the tracks were considered good enough to be included in the latter half of the first full length Porcupine Tree CD (OTSOL — even in the same running order!). Each is executed with youthful gutso and an ear for exploration and concept, traits many fans still cherish about PT today. Here is a waltz through the psychedelic forest they present.
Porcupine Tree had a busy 1994. Somewhere between playing their first gigs as a full band, issuing Spiral Circus (a collection of some of their first live recordings), Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape (most of the remaining cassette material that hadn’t made it onto …On the Sunday of Life) and the Moonloop and Stars Die EPs (the original homes for the two titular pieces), and writing material for the then-forthcoming The Sky Moves Sideways, they – well, Steven Wilson in particular – found time in the schedule to put together a group of Up the Downstair outtakes, some stylistically-fitting new material, and a re-recording of an older cassette track under the title Staircase Infinities. Despite being remastered and included as a second disc of the redone UTD in 2005, it’s often overlooked in the vast PT catalogue, and I find that quite a shame!
Let’s take a walk through each of its rich tracks and examine this little gem.