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Porcupine Tree - Stars Die: The Delerium Years 1991-1997 (20

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Porcupine Tree - Stars Die: The Delerium Years 1991-1997 (2002/2017) [2016 Steven Wilson Remaster] FLAC
EAC Rip | FLAC (tracks+log+.cue) | Scans included | 02:26:24 | 871 Mb
Progressive Rock | Label: Kscope Records[/center]

Excellent introduction to the early days of Steven Wilson and his seminal band Porcupine Tree, with a thoughtful collection of album tracks, b-sides and rarities curated by Wilson himself, with the same attention to detail that we've come to expect from his flourishing solo career.

The low down:

With musician and producer Steven Wilson shortly about to announce details of his next solo project, I thought it would be interesting to take a trip back to an earlier point in his trajectory charting his beginnings as a full-time musician, and the evolution of Porcupine Tree from bedroom studio project to fully-fledged four piece band.

Interestingly, it's almost as if his music development has come full circle, as Porcupine Tree started out as a solo project under which SW created and released his music, with each band member being brought on board to help him to realise his developing music and then Porcupine Tree finally becoming a group in the true sense so that the music could be played live.

The first few albums were pretty much Wilson acting as composer, arranger and conductor, with the other members then playing their parts as directed. An interesting parallel with his present solo career where he calls the shots and hires the musicians to play what he's written - the only difference being that his little black book of contacts is probably a lot bigger these days!

Stars Die - The Delerium Years came out in 2002 as Porcupine Tree were on the cusp of a new record deal and wider appreciation, and was designed as way for new fans to catch up on the group's early years. The two disc set was compiled and curated by SW himself, and he took care to include not just the more obvious crowd-pleasers like Radioactive Toy or Up The Downstair, but also b-sides from deleted singles, studio out-takes, alternative versions and a couple of previously unreleased tracks.

That way, existing fans would also have ample reason to justify shelling out for this set. Given the limited budget that the Delerium label worked with, singles were often limited pressings and quickly became sought after, especially if the b-sides didn't make in onto the albums that followed.

SW oversaw the mixing and sequencing of the collection, and contributed heavily to the extensive sleeve notes, with some of his most detailed and frank comments to help the listener understand the background to the music's development of this period. The other three members also got a fair shout and contributed equally candid insights to the sleeve notes, so you get a nicely rounded view of the band's early history as told by themselves.

Interestingly, each individual's views compliment those of their bandmates, and it becomes evident that by the time of the Signify album, Porcupine Tree had evolved into a fully integrated band with everyone contributing and being on the same page.

If you're already familiar with SW's four solo albums, or Porcupine Tree's latter albums which were more metal-tinged, then the material on Stars Die may seem like "life, but not as we know it". When SW started out down the PT path he was heavily influenced by psychedelia and ambient rock, rather than the eclectic prog rock with which he tends to be associated with these days. Less King Crimson, Yes and Jethro Tull, and more Aphex Twin, Ash Ra Tempel and The Orb.

As SW himself says in the sleevenotes "People tend to forget that when Porcupine Tree first started they were perceived to be one of those way-out wacky psychedelic space rock bands like Ozric Tentacles".

The Ozrics and Porcupine Tree certainly shared a common DNA in the early days, building their reputation through selling cassettes by the bucketload, fiercely independent in outlook and at one point even playing gigs together. Of course, PT's music evolved and mutated into something different, while the Ozrics continued on their interplanetary journey and are still out there...somewhere...

They also shared a common musical strand - groove! Colin Edwin's bass influences were jazz and blues, so while the music might take you to the outer limits, you could dance your way there. The epic Voyage 34 was SW's answer to the 40 minute Blue Room by The Orb, and had it been included in the running order of Up The Downstair, as was the original plan, the over-riding vibe of that album would have been one of ambient dance rather than the spacey rock, and could have opened up a totally different audience to PT via the rave culture that was in full vibrancy at that point.

Of course, SW being SW, he took his music into a different direction again, and The Sky Moves Sideways turned out to be a full-blown Floydian opus that put the band "firmly in the progressive rock camp". As a result, it reached a wider audience, including Marillion, who offered the band a support slot on tour. (SW subsequently returned the compliment by helping out on mixing duties for the album.) It's still a really popular album, and I don't think the Floydian tag does it any harm - having been listening heavily to the Floyd's Early Years box set this week, The Sky Moves Sideways comes across as both respectful and yet still original in its approach.

But the prog tag was clearly something that irked SW because in the press interviews that followed he went out of his way to decry the label, and perhaps the next album Signify was a reaction to this, with its less-is-more approach. The songs are shorter and more focussed, the lyrics turn away from starcapes and moods towards feelings and relevance, and harmony vocals bring added beauty, with drummer Chris Maitland adding his voice to Wilson's.

The music finally sounds like the result of four musicians locked into each other's wavelengths and creating music as a single entity.

Signify is probably my favourite of all Porcupine Tree's albums, with some of their strongest songs, and a terrific sound mix. There's a tangible vibe that pervades through the whole album, gently letting go the spacey ambience of what's gone before and slowly introducing the new melancholic feel that would become increasingly prominent on the albums that followed.

By the time the next studio album, Stupid Dream, emerged the band would be on a different label and pursuing a pop-refined version of the music begun on Signify. The Delerium days were over, but they played such an important part in setting Steven Wilson on the path to where he's now arrived, and the music from back then is still a part of his solo chemistry. (On the Raven tour he resurrected Radioactive Toy as an encore.)

If you're at all curious to check out Steven Wilson's earlier output then this compilation is a good place to start, including some of the best stuff, but also taking you off the beaten track on occasion.

And here's a closing thought to ponder - in the sleeve notes (written 15 years ago) Wilson notes how Andy Partridge's Dukes Of The Stratosphere project was such a huge influence on his music when he was starting out. Given that Wilson and Partridge have been collaborating on the music for Wilson's forthcoming album, could some of the opening tracks on Stars Die hold the clues to how Wilson's next album might sound?

01. Radioactive Toy (10:09)
02. Nine Cats (03:52)
03. And The Swallows Dance Above The Sun (04:06)
04. Nostalgia Factory (07:34)
05. Voyage 34 - phase one (12:55)
06. Synesthesia - extended version (07:54)
07. Phantoms (03:15)
08. Up The Downstair (10:09)
09. Fadeaway (06:16)
10. Rainy Taxi (06:51)

01. Stars Die (05:07)
02. The Sky Moves Sideways - Phase One (18:38)
03. Men Of Wood (03:35)
04. Waiting (04:27)
05. The Sound Of No-One Listening (2001 Remix) (08:14)
06. Colourflow In Mind (03:49)
07. Fuse The Sky (04:33)
08. Signify II (06:04)
09. Every Home Is Wired (05:15)
10. Sever (05:31)
11. Dark Matter (08:13)
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