I’ve always been a huge champion for Steven Wilson’s career. With his work on Porcupine Tree, the 5.1 mixes for; King Crimson, Jethro Tull, XTC, and Yes to name a few, and his solo career. He is a very, very busy man when it comes to projects on the last two. This year, he’s back in full circle with the release of his fourth album, Hand.Cannot.Erase. It’s Steven’s follow up to The Raven That Refused to Sing and it is a joyous and spiritual adventure with emotional textures told in the story of a disappearance of a woman who was dead for three years which became a mystery before she was discovered.
Steven was inspired by the story of a woman named Joyce Carol Vincent in which she was the subject of a documentary in 2012 called, Dreams of a Life, and he knew that this was a subject that Wilson wanted to touch on and it captures the essence of the mysterious person. It is also a straightforward album with an electronic pop and not to mention the Prog aspects thrown in as well. And also having Israeli singer, Ninette Tayeb and a Boys choir onto the album it’s an excellent combination on what he’s brought to the table.
With the ambient introduction on First Regret and seguing into the overdrive resemblance of the guitar styles of Pete Townshend’s flamenco touches with 3 Years Older, it is a perfect introduction to get you into the story. With the narratives, it is a perfect epic sounding that has a theatrical atmosphere that Wilson gives the band members a chance to go into a lyrical view of isolation and shutting the worlds both in and out upon you.
Katherine Jenkins describes the narration of her teen years of the meeting of her sister and describing of their love of the music on the mix tapes that included This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, and Felt. Along with books, clothes, and her first cigarette in a spoken dialogue on the electro pop beauty of Perfect Life while the title track featuring Tayeb on background vocals, has an ascending rhythm section and singing the line “Hand Cannot Erase this Love” it is magic when the band are together as one in a soaring melody. Tayeb herself is brilliantly magnificent on her vocals and the moment I played it, I couldn’t turn it off.
Because she along with Steven himself, is brilliant. Simply brilliant. The other two tracks shows how she can take it into the areas of showing that hope maybe there for survival. The nine-minute epic, Routine begins with a haunting and moving ballad for the first four minutes before it kicks into gear in the Orchestral format as they both take turns on the lyrics.
The ominous 12-minute Ancestral goes into a deeper and darker voyage with moody and intense nightmarish tones and the lyrics almost have a dystopian scenery “And hiding there among the wreckage left behind/they see things that haunt them/When they close their eyes.” It has a string section, electronics, keyboards, drums flute, mellotron, and the haunting guitar melodies, capture the composition and hitting the nails on the wall very hard.
The harder rock and mystifying enormous drum beats and Rhodes solo along with the bass line that has a Jazzy groove and futuristic guitar solo on Home Invasion, has this wonderful catchy beat and the double-tracking vocals as well. Both Guthrie, Marco, Nick, and Adam are having a blast on this track and it go into a Floyd-sque beauty and back into the eruptive roar.
But on the closing tracks, Happy Returns and Ascendant Here On… is reminding the listener that the while the story is very much giving a farewell to the character’s brother and knowing that she isn’t coming back, and the aftermath what is about to come. The ballad is a lukewarm chance for the brother that not to give up and hopefully to start a new chapter and the Boys choir is beautifully done that has sadness, mourn, and the flashbacks from childhood to remember and focusing the good times the character had before fading away into the sunset.
I have listened to Hand.Cannot.Erase about eight times. This shows Wilson at his finest hour and it shows that he isn’t just a musician, but also a composer and an arranger at the same time and knowing exactly where the band and choir need to be in. He has done a superb job with this. The DVD features a documentary done by Lasse Hoile about the making of the album at No Man’s Land and Air Studio in London.
It features Anil Prasad from Innerviews (Music Without Borders) talking to Steven about the inspiration behind the process and the album in 5.1 sound, and a photo gallery of the sessions. The booklet is one of a kind and it shows pictures of the character going through the memories of friends, family, her bedroom, and her the paintings thrown in the black & white photograph.
It is perhaps for me, one of Steven’s finest moment of this year so far.