Top albums of 2011, #3: The Incident (2009), Porcupine Tree

Anyone who remembers my 2010 album selection, and even more those privileged few who saw the unblogged 2009 selection, will recall that I tend to land up on a fairly even mix of folk music and prog rock.  This year has been the exception: folk has nearly swept the board, largely because of my new interest in playing it as well as listening to it.  That leaves us with only one prog album this year, but what an album it is: Porcupine Tree’s The Incident.  While it shares with all good prog the qualities of richness, technical proficiency and inventiveness, it adds another quality much rarer in this genre: approachability.  Call it likeability if you wish.  Because much as I love prog, I have to admit that it’s not always the most welcoming genre to people approaching it from the outside.  This album is an exception.  It draws you in.

I don’t know much about about Porcupine Tree — Amazon gave me the Time Flies MP3 as a freebie when I bought something else.  I loved that opening couplet, “I was born in sixty-seven / the year of Sergeant Pepper and Are You Experienced?” (it made me sad to have been born in the year merely of the white album and Axis: Bold As Love).  I liked the whole song enough to get the album, but so far that’s all I know of their material.  Above, I’ve embedded the YouTube video of the single edit of Time Flies, since it comes it at a fairly digestible 5:25.  But you really want to listen to the full-length version that’s on the album (embedded below), which takes rather longer to illustrate its point of the passage of time — it breathes and explores in a way that the short version can’t.

(Students of the classics will recognise several homages to Pink Floyd’s Animals album — specifically, the opening acoustic guitar pattern is a nod to the similar opening of Dogs, and the cascading descent of echoing electric guitars at 2:20 afterwards evokes a similar passage in Sheep.)

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Next time: a lesser-known album from a “one-hit wonder”.


15 responses to “Top albums of 2011, #3: The Incident (2009), Porcupine Tree

  1. Pingback: Top albums of 2011, #4: So Beautiful or So What (2011), Paul Simon | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  2. Love Porcupine Tree, though I found the Incident slightly disappointing compared to its 2 predecessors – Deadwing and Fear of a Blank Planet. FoaBP is probably my favourite PT album but Deadwing is interesting for deviating slightly from their usual sound.
    If you want to explore more from them I would definitely recommend at least Deadwing and something older like The Sky Moves Sideways (another favourite)

    But since you brought up the subject of accessible prog I have to urge you to check out Riverside (like I do constantly to anyone who will listen :). Second Life Syndrome is probably what I’d recommend for a starting point, though there’s nothing they’ve ever made that I don’t love…

  3. I have just started listening to Fear of a Blank Planet. I don’t yet know it well enough to make meaningful comparisons with The Incident. Regarding earlier Porcupine Tree, I decided yesterday (when writing this post) to go right back to the beginning, and ordered On the Sunday of Life (currently available for a fiver).

    Thanks for the Riverside recommendation. I’ve actually been feeling the lack of new prog in 2011, so I’m pleased to get a new pointer. I see that Amazon’s Second Life Syndrome page has 13 reviews: 10 five-star and three four-star. Very positive. I’ll check it out.

  4. The first 2 PT albuns are the only ones I don’t know. I should warn you they don’t seem to be very highly regarded (which is partly why I never got around to them).

    By the way, why don’t you use Grooveshark to check out stuff you don’t know? I never have the courage to buy something I haven’t heard at all before.

    Grooveshark has the whole unpleasant not compensating the artists thing (plus a clunky interface), but I feel ok with the usage I give it: giving a listen to stuff that people recommend or that I’m curious about, before taking the plunge of buying it.

  5. Hmm. I’ve used Grooveshark for listening to individual tracks. But really I am a whole-album man.

  6. Right, but that’s actually the advantage of grooveshark over fishing for tracks on youtube – it’s properly organized by artist & album (well, most of the time).

  7. OK, I’ll try it. Thanks for the pointer.

  8. Long time reader, first time commented here, chiming in to say it’s very cool to see you being interested in Porcupine Tree. Yes, they truly are a fantastic band and very near and dear to my heart, probably the band that first got me truly interested in music.

    Amused to see you went straight for On The Sunday of Life. It’s an… interesting album, to say the least. Don’t expect it to be anything like The Incident AT ALL. It’s a very eclectic record. A lot of it’s more like psychedelic rock than prog rock, with an often rather light-hearted and even goofy feel to it. I don’t give it a spin often but it has a few gems on it. At that point it was pretty much just Steven Wilson recording stuff in his attic all by his lonesome with a friend providing the occasional lyrics. PT wouldn’t turn into a full-on band untill several years later, when the tapes and CDs circulating got rather popular and Steven Wilson found himself in need of backing musicians as he was getting more and more requests to play live shows.

    I’ll second the sugestion for Deadwing, and add one for In Absentia, which is probably my favourite record of theirs. It really strikes the best balance between complexity and accesibility of all their records to me, being at the start of an upward moving trend of ‘heaviness’ in their more recent records (Deadwing, Fear and Incident are at times very close to prog metal ala Dream Theater in my opinion, not that there’s anything wrong with that). A lot of the album is simply hauntingly beautiful, it’s well worth a listen. :)

  9. Thanks, Marjin, it’s always good to get recommendations. I went for On the Sunday of Life partly because I was intrigued by the story of its genesis. This from the Allmusic biography:

    1987 saw the founding of both No-Man and Porcupine Tree, the latter actually starting as a joke between Wilson and a friend about a legendary lost ’70s group. Elaborate discographies and other material were created à la Spinal Tap, while Wilson himself created a slew of music meant to be the band’s lost recordings. In a humorous twist of fate, two tapes of this material ended up in the hands of other folks interested in hearing more from Wilson, who ended up collating the best tracks for Porcupine Tree’s real debut album on Delerium Records, On the Sunday of Life, in 1992.

  10. Pingback: Top albums of 2011: the final results | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  11. I was recommended the Procupine by a collegue, knowing I’m a fan of Pink Floyd. I can recognize some guitars a-la Animals in this track, which is great.

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