In Absentia, by Porcupine Tree
Suggested by Dave Parkinson
Having never heard of Porcupine Tree, I expected something prickly.
This feeling was exacerbated by the album cover, a close-up of a flaking zombie-like head and hand, the fingers of which are prying open a white and sightless eye. This worry was unfounded, as Porcupine Tree are not as their name or cover would suggest. Instead of spiky thrash or doom-laden jackhammer death, we have an attractive melding of disparate parts that make up a succulent whole.
Front and centre there’s the luscious guitar sound, forming the moist meat of this Sunday roast. It’s deep and expressive, and layers the tracks with more body that you’d expect. The drums are precise and driven, almost metallic in execution, which lends the album a sense of strength, albeit hidden in a gentler frame. The singer lends his pleasant and unexpectedly light voice to the mix, cementing the
It’s likely the voice with which I take umbrage, as it seems at odds with what the songs are trying to achieve. It’s almost as if the band are going for a symphonic rock sound, albeit a gentle one, and at the last minute they roped in the singer from a Coldplay tribute band. The vocals are very close in the mix, which means they are understated against the more strident instrumentation from the rest.
There’s nothing unpleasant with the vocals, mind, and I’m being dishonest if I tell you that It’s not enjoyable. It’s just that the parts presented, while accomplished, are trying to bring something together that transcends their disparate origins and fuses into something pure and beautiful. It’s a swing for the moon, which doesn’t touch down, but swims in the stars nonetheless.
A final point of interest is lyrical. Let’s look at Blackest Eyes, the album’s opener, as an example. At first glance, there’s a sense of turgid teen poetry here, with lines such as “A mother sings a lullaby to a child”, and “it’s so erotic when your makeup runs.” On closer examination, these lyrics are much darker and more ominous that appears on the surface, chronicling abduction and murder and more. Strong stuff. Other titles, such as The Creator Has a Mastertape (my standout) and Heartattack in a Layby, have a base sensibility that belies their florid exterior.
So, nice music that’s warring with itself, and interesting yet conflicting lyrics. In Absentia is intriguing, and not without merit. I rate it 6/10, and I’d be happy to investigate more.