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The Raven That Refused to Sing(2012)
No synopsis for The Raven That Refused to Sing.
For more about The Raven That Refused to Sing and the The Raven That Refused to Sing Blu-ray release, see the The Raven That Refused to Sing Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 9, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Steven Wilson, Alan Parsons
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The Raven That Refused to Sing Blu-ray Review
This raven quoth "Forevermore".
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 9, 2013
It can't be mere coincidence that the moon plays such a central role in the imagery accompanying Steven Wilson's evocative album The Raven That Refused to Sing. The cover image is a rather haunting take on what might termed The Old Man in the Moon, but you have to reconfigure that idea via both Georges Melies and perhaps Edvard Munch to get a clear mental picture of just how odd Wilson's conception is. And when you pop the Blu-ray into your player, though this is ostensibly an "audio" release, the screen is filled with a slowly morphing set of images that waft in and out of a lunar globe. These images aren't enough to distract from the music, but they are enough to keep the more obsessively minded (and I would count myself among that group) clued in, at least occasionally, to the fascinating changes that take place on screen as the music plays. By why wouldn't this just be an arbitrary decision? Well, perhaps because this album was Associate Produced and Engineered by none other than Alan Parsons, he of the legendary Pink Floyd album The Dark Side Of The Moon. Wilson's album bears a certain Pink Floyd ambience some of the time, but that's only scratching the surface of a veritable glut of influences that float in and out of each tune, rather like the imagery filling the lunar globe mentioned above. One moment we get a burst of frenetic drums that might remind some of Billy Cobham, the next moment there are gorgeous layered harmonies that bring Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to mind, then there's some quicksilver guitar work that may evoke Jan Akkerman in some listeners' ears, and at other times there are gorgeous, almost sine wave like guitar solos that are reminiscent of Pat Metheny or the fabulous Brazilian master Toninho Horta. There are also more retro touches like the mellotron (Wilson evidently used King Crimson's actual instrument) and Minimoog that give many songs a kind of "back to the future" sonic quality. But even this cursory list really isn't enough to adequately describe the genre defying approach Wilson takes. Wilson is regularly lumped into the progressive rock or even art rock categories, but there are definitely more niches that this multi-instrumentalist and vocalist explores, including jazz, pop, and even folk. There's an adage about the Pacific Northwest that I call home, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes", and that might be adapted with regard to Wilson's music—if any given sequence isn't to your aural liking, chances are there's something "completely different" heading down the pike that may indeed strike your particular fancy.
The track list might look like it's pretty sparse, but take a look below at the running times of all of these tunes and you'll quickly figure out that Wilson is not a "32 bar A-A-B-A" sort of songwriter. "Luminol" for instance starts out with that bristling drum attack mentioned above, one that almost might lead some listeners to believe they're about to embark on a thrash metal outing, but then some unison jazz rock riffs enter the fray, an exploitation of quartal harmonies ensues, and fairly effortlessly things segue into a beautiful vocal section that once again just as effortlessly slides back into an extended jam. Making the track list even fuller is the fact that several of these tracks offer alternate versions, though they're authored a bit oddly in that the "main" version will just pause if you're playing it and the alternate version will then play, ultimately returning you to the main version to finish that out if you've accessed the alternate while the main version is playing. The alternate versions also have "non-lunar" versions of the illustrations that pop up in the moon's orb during the main versions.
It's pointless to try to pigeonhole Wilson, for this is certainly one of the most wonderfully varied listening experiences in recent memory. Those of you who regularly read my classical, jazz, pop and rock concert (and occasional Blu-ray audio) reviews know that I have a fairly eclectic background, and while I was at least tangentially aware of Wilson's work with Porcupine Tree, I frankly hadn't paid that much attention to his solo work. I'm more than happy to have changed that with The Raven That Refused to Sing. This is quite simply one of the most enjoyable audio outings I've experienced recently, certainly in this year and, as I reflect on it, quite probably for much longer than that. Adventurous listeners who don't mind some serious genre bending are encouraged to check this out. It's that rare Blu-ray audio release that fully takes advantage of the medium's potential and delivers a soaring aural experience while keeping the eyes at least tangentially entranced.
The incredible band includes:
Steven Wilson: vocals, Mellotron, keyboard, guitars, bass guitar (The Holy Drinker)
Nick Beggs: bass guitar, Chapman stick (The Holy Drinker), backing vocals
Guthrie Govan: lead guitar
Adam Holzman: Fender Rhodes, Hammond Organ, piano, Minimoog
Marco Minnemann: drums, percussion
Theo Travis: flutes, saxophones, clarinet
Jakko Jakszyk: additional vocals (Luminol, The Watchmaker)
Alan Parsons: Haw-Haw guitar (The Holy Drinker)
The set list (including alternate versions, which are listed in parentheses) for The Raven That Refused to Sing is:
The Raven That Refused to Sing Blu-ray, Video Quality
It might seem a little odd to give a video score to what is ostensibly a Blu-ray audio release, but there is a video component here, and it's rather well done. The disc features an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1 (though some of the alternate version illustrations do not fill the entire 16:9 screen, something shared by the separate art gallery and photo gallery). As mentioned above, while the album plays, a really haunting series of images floats in and out of the moon, and while those are quite subtle, they lend a really nice ambience to the disc. The documentary is shot in black and white and has a purposefully grainy, almost 16mm, look to it, but it offers nice fine object detail in the close-ups and a decently sharp image given appropriate expectations.
The Raven That Refused to Sing Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Raven That Refused to Sing features three excellent audio options, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, an LPCM 5.1 mix, and an LPCM 2.0 mix. As might be expected, I didn't hear much if any difference between the two 5.1 mixes. Wilson has very smartly provided discrete channelization for instruments (and vocals) in all of these tunes. Therefore, you'll hear something like a piano solo in "Luminol" clearly emanating from the right channels, while in a later tune what sounds like a Vocoder processed vocal by Wilson almost wafts from front to back in a kind of pulsating way. Fidelity here is exceptional, all the more remarkable in that Wilson takes so many disparate approaches in crafting his music. Some of the drumming is intentionally toward almost a punk rock side of things, with the drums tuned considerably higher than they might be in a more sedate jazz or pop setting. That gives some of the percussion an added burst of energy which comes through remarkably well. Some of the guitar work is similarly biting, but there's also plenty of mellow material here, including some pretty laid back vocal work as well as jazzy flute and sax solos, all of which is prioritized very well in the mix. I frankly only sampled the 2.0 mix since I was entranced by the 5.1 mixes. There's obviously a much narrow soundfield being exploited here, but perhaps surprisingly, there's still some pretty wide stereo separation a lot of the time and nothing sounds crowded.
The Raven That Refused to Sing Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There are several alternate versions of the tunes as listed above, which I'm including in the supplements score. The "real" bonus material is as follows:
The Raven That Refused to Sing Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Wow! What a fantastic surprise this album turned out to be. I frankly didn't know quite what to expect, and when those visceral drums started up on "Luminol", I confess for a moment I agonized, wondering if I was about to be subjected to another round of mindless metal (not that there's anything wrong with that). How wrong that first impression was. This is some of the most supremely smart music I've listened to in quite a while, a kaleidoscope of styles and influences that is deliciously hard to describe but which is viscerally compelling and which provides a really epic listening experience. Floyd fans will probably take to this stuff like ducks to water, especially since Alan Parsons is involved, but I can't recommend this disc highly enough to those of you who are willing to let categories fade to nothingness and just let the music play. Highly recommended.
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