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Music / Steven Wilson

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"Miserable music makes me happy, and conversely, happy music makes me fucking miserable."
Steven Wilson at the Wiltern, Los Angeles, 2015.

Steven John Wilson (born 3 November 1967) is an English singer, songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and audio engineer. He is the founder and leader of the band Porcupine Tree, is a founding member of Storm Corrosion alongside Mikael Åkerfeldt, a founding member of No-Man and Blackfield, and has an extensive solo career as well. A primarily self-taught musician and engineer, he's worked with many bands and has had a considerable number of projects over the years. He's been nominated for four Grammys, two with Porcupine Tree and two with Storm Corrosion.

He began receiving guitar lessons for a short period as a child, but he didn't particularly enjoy it, and his parents eventually stopped paying for it. At the age of 11, he began experimenting with some equipment and a nylon string classical guitar he found in his attic, creating a rudimentary form of multi-track recording. His father, an electronic engineer, built him a multi-track tape machine and a vocoder so he could experiment with studio recording. He formed a number of bands with friends through school, but mostly enjoyed experimenting with sound in his spare time.

In 1986, Steven Wilson launched two projects: No Man is an Island (Except the Isle of Man) (a fusion of synth-pop and progressive rock, which would later be shortened to "No-Man") and Porcupine Tree (originally a pastiche of psychedelic rock). No-Man's second single, a cover of the Donovan song "Colours," would win an award in the Melody Maker magazine and land them a record deal with the One Little Indian indie record label. Both No-Man and Porcupine Tree would both go on to release their first releases later and eventually develop a large cult following. In 2008, he began a solo career and has released a string of critically acclaimed albums in the years since. His third and fourth solo albums, "The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)" and "Hand. Cannot. Erase.", are regarded as modern classics of the progressive rock genre.

Since 2009, Wilson has also made a name for himself by providing new stereo and surround mixes for a number of older artists, starting with close associate King Crimson's 40th anniversary reissues. Initially focusing on them and other Progressive Rock and prog-adjacent acts, Wilson's efforts have since expanded to a number of genres such as Hard Rock, Soft Rock, and New Romantic music. The prolific nature of Wilson's work has made him a staple of the reissue business, with multiple new remixes coming out on a yearly basis.


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     Solo Releases 

  • Prayer for the Soul (1983)
  • Untitled (2002)

  • The Joke's on You (1983)
  • The Last Man to Laugh (1985)

  • Loveblows & Lovecries - A Confession - (1993)
  • Flowermouth (1994)
  • Wild Opera (1996)
  • Returning Jesus (2001)
  • Together We're Stranger (2003)
  • Schoolyard Ghosts (2008)
  • Love You to Bits (2019)

     Porcupine Tree 
  • On the Sunday of Life (1991)
    • Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape (1992)
  • Up the Downstair (1993)
  • The Sky Moves Sideways (1995)
  • Signify (1997)
  • Stupid Dream (1999)
  • Lightbulb Sun (2000)
  • In Absentia (2002)
  • Deadwing (2005)
  • Fear of a Blank Planet (2007)
    • Nil Recurring (2007)
  • The Incident (2009)
  • Closure/Continuation (2022)

     Incredible Expanding Mindfuck 
  • I.E.M. (1996)
  • An Escalator to Christmas (1999)
  • Arcadia Son (2001)
  • I.E.M. Have Come for Your Children (2001)

     Bass Communion 
  • I (1998)
  • II (1999)
  • III (2001)
  • Ghosts on Magnetic Tape (2004)
  • Indicates Void (2005)
  • Loss (2006)
  • Pacific Codex (2008)
  • Molotov and Haze (2008)
  • Chiaroscuro (2009)
  • Cenotaph (2011)
  • Sisters Oregon (2017)
  • And No Birds Sing (2021)

  • Blackfield (2004)
  • Blackfield II (2007)
  • Welcome to My DNA (2011)
  • Blackfield IV (2013)
  • Blackfield V (2017)
  • For the Music (2020)

     Storm Corrosion 
  • Storm Corrosion (2012)

     Album Remixes 

     Curated Compilations 
  • Intrigue: Progressive Sounds in UK Alternative Music 1978-89 (2023)

Steven Wilson and his works provide examples of the following tropes:

  • Alien Abduction: Heavily implied as the ending to ''Hand. Cannot. Erase.", as evidenced by the supplementary blog accompanying the album and the films shown on the HCE tour.
  • All There in the Manual: The special editions of "Hand. Cannot. Erase.", the blog, and the live performances all give the full stated plot of the album. Sort of.
  • Alternative Rock
  • Ambient: Some of his more psychedelic songs can tend towards this.
  • Animated Music Video: "Drag Ropes", "Drive Home", "The Raven That Refused to Sing", "Routine", "People Who Eat Darkness" and "King Ghost" are accompanied by beautifully animated stop-motion videos that emphasise the sadness of the songs (or in the case of "People Who Eat Darkness", the creepiness). "Routine" in particular is notable for featuring some top-notch stop motion animation.
  • Author Appeal: Music, of course. The supplementary material for "Hand Cannot Erase" is filled with references to bands Wilson is a fan of, some of which are obscure enough that many listeners would probably have never heard of them had it not been for Wilson mentioning them.
  • Auto-Tune: Used in "Drive Home" and "The Raven That Refused to Sing" to create a ghostly effect.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: "Personal Shopper" lists a bevy of products portrayed as vapid and consumerist; among them are luxury-oriented products commonly put out by the very music industry that Wilson operates within, including "deluxe edition box sets" and "180 gram vinyl reissues." The chorus additionally takes a jab at the box set and reissue model, sarcastically urging the listener to buy "the kind of stuff you've bought before a million times."
  • Call-Back: The tree person from the "Harmony Korine" video returns to terrorise the papier-mâché-headed man in the tour visuals for "The Same Asylum As Before".
  • Characterization Marches On: Steven regarding streaming and MP3s. Early on, he seemed to have an "immense" hatred for it, feeling MP3s and Apple products ruined the quality and significance of the music released and threw shots at them ("literally" as seen in the "Insurgentes" documentary). Recently he's "finally" decided that streaming and MP3s aren't too bad and is allowing them back online such as on Apple Music, Spotify, etc. He's even been seen with an iPhone on his Instagram!
    • Privacy wise, Steven's legendary. And recently, he's opened up an "Instagram" and if one believes so, "'Snapchat'". Heck, he's even smiling in the photos!
  • Chronological Album Title: The first three Bass Communion albums and almost every Blackfield album (with the exception of "Welcome to My DNA" and "For the Music").
  • Concept Album: Many Porcupine Tree albums tend to be connected by some unifying theme. In his solo career, there are two concept albums:
    • "The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)" doesn't have a straightforward plot, but intertwines with the idea of ghost stories and loss.
    • "Hand. Cannot. Erase" is a concept album about a woman becoming increasingly isolated from society.
  • Cover Version: Steven Wilson had a whole series of these from 2003 - 2010, featuring covers of songs from the likes of The Cure, ABBA, and Alanis Morissette. He also contributed a cover of "Stoneage Dinosaurs" to a Tim Smith tribute album, and played "Space Oddity" and "Sign o' the Times" at concerts following the deaths of David Bowie and Prince.
  • Creator Thumbprint: He has numerous subjects that keep recurring through his discography, including nostalgia, urban isolation, cults, and ghosts. He also likes using trains as a symbol in his lyrics.
  • Design Student's Orgasm:"' All' "of his album art for his solo art and some of Porcupine Tree hit this. Does help that it's all designed/created by Lasse Hoile.
  • Digital Head Swap: The video for "Self" employs deepfake software to superimpose the faces of various celebrities over Wilson's own.
  • Drone of Dread: Bass Communion has a lot of this.
  • Epic Rocking: Each entry in Steven Wilson's solo discography presents an opportunity for him to create some powerful and larger-than-life soundscapes:
    • From "Insurgentes": "Salvaging", "No Twilight With the Courts of the Sun"
    • "Grace for Drowning" has "Remainder the Black Dog" as well as the 23-minute, jazz-rock behemoth "Raider II".
    • "The Raven That Refused to Sing": LITERALLY THE ENTIRE ALBUM
    • "Hand. Cannot. Erase.": "3 Years Older", "Routine", "Home Invasion/Regret #9" (when taken together as a single track) and "Ancestral"
    • : "My Book of Regrets" and "Don't Hate Me".
    • "To the Bone": Despite the album being promoted as a work of progressive pop, it's not short on its share of epic, energetic rockers, including the title track, "Refuge", "People Who Eat Darkness", and "Detonation"
  • Face on the Cover: "Insurgentes", although in this case his face is obscured by a gas mask. Played straight with Cover Version, Transience and To the Bone.
  • Genre Mashup: He'll experiment with Alternative Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Progressive Rock, Jazz, Synth-Pop, Ambient, and Progressive Metal all in the span of a single song.
  • Genre Throwback: Some of his albums can be described as homages to previous eras. "Insurgentes" was inspired by the post-rock and noise rock of the late '80s and early '90s, "The Raven That Refused to Sing" by classic '70s progressive rock, and "To the Bone" by '80s progressive pop.
  • Genre Roulette: Each of his solo albums follows a different style.
    • Insurgentes was heavily influenced by Post-Punk, Shoegazing and Noise Rock.
    • "Grace for Drowning" is a progressive jazz fusion album.
    • "The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)" is an homage to classic Progressive Rock.
    • "Hand. Cannot. Erase." retains elements of "The Raven" 's prog sound and merges them with modern post-prog.
    • "To the Bone" was influenced by progressive pop artists such as Tears for Fears, Kate Bush and XTC.
    • "The Future Bites" is an electronic art-rock album.
  • Greatest Hits Album: "Transience" is a compilation of some of his more accessible songs, intended as a starting point for curious music fans.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: He's "'very'" good friends with Lasse Hoile, who's done nearly all of the artwork/special editions to his solo projects and even some for Porcupine Tree.
    • Mikael Akerfeldt is also this to Steven, as Mikael was the reason Steven decided to take a more metal approach with Porcupine Tree. The fact Wilson has worked on Opeth's albums since "Blackwater Park" should give a fan of the idea that the two are very close friends, reaching Ho Yay levels.
  • I Am the Band: A few of his numerous projects, as well as some Porcupine Tree releases.
  • "I Want" Song: Inverted in "Personal Shopper", which is less an "I Want" song and more a" "You" Want" song, the narrator listing products that they urge the listener to buy just for bragging rights.
  • Leitmotif: Wilson tucks one into ''Hand. Cannot. Erase." in the forms of "First Regret" and "Happy Returns".
  • Lighter and Softer: "To the Bone" is pretty much a straight-up melodic pop album. It's received comparisons to ABBA and even Coldplay.
  • Live Album: "Get All You Deserve" and "Home Invasion: In Concert at the Royal Albert Hall".
  • Loudness War: He is strongly opposed to this and tries hard to avert this whenever he can, with only a few CDs (likely due to Executive Meddling) actually playing this trope straight. When he's given complete control, his material tends to come out around DR12, and several of his remixes aren't mastered at all, being simply flat transfers of his mixes with no digital processing (which is usually the source of dynamic range compression).
  • Malevolent Masked Man: The video for "Remainder the Black Dog" features a group of them. Their masks come with Black Eyes of Evil and horns.
  • Mesodiplosis:
    • "Veneno Para Las Hadas"
      "When you're young, you're sleepin'
      With the love you're feelin'"
    • "Routine"
      "Routine keeps me in line
      Helps me pass the time
      Helps me to sleep"
  • Mind Screw: ''Hand. Cannot. Erase." has shades of this. The album speaks of a woman who isolates herself from society and takes some loosely based influence from the death of Joyce Carol Vincent, but really goes up the wall as the album goes on, the blog off the album ending with the protagonist "H" saying she's "leaving with them".
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: The cover of "To the Bone" is just his head and shoulders against a red background, with the only colours being red and blue.
  • Mood Whiplash: "Track One", which goes from being a soothing acoustic ballad to a fire-and-brimstone mesh of strings and percussion in less than a minute. A similar change in mood occurs on the title track of Storm Corrosion's debut LP.
    • "Home Invasion" has this in spades, starting off with an anxious one-two punch of death metal and jazz-fusion, followed by the band traversing some funky territory, only to cut away to an ethereal set of vocals and psychedelic instrumentation.
  • New Technology Is Evil: Steven Wilson dislikes MP3s and MP3 players, for decreasing the quality of music and the significance of it, respectively. He takes a few shots at iPods and video games on "Fear of a Blank Planet".
    • Interestingly after people mentioned that the bonus tracks included with the super deluxe edition of "Insurgentes" were among their favorites and people were saddened that there was no way of legally obtaining them without buying the (since then) sold out box set. He made the songs freely available on his SoundCloud as HQ .wav downloads.
  • Nice Guy: Widely regarded as a calm and "very" friendly individual when met in person.
  • Noise Rock: Insurgentes has elements of this and Shoegazing.
  • Nostalgia Filter: A huge part of the narrative for "Hand. Cannot. Erase.", with "Perfect Life" and "Transience" acting as flashback scenes upon which the main character reflects on a simpler and more idyllic time in her life.
  • Older Than They Look: He was born in 1967.
  • Orange/Blue Contrast: The cover of "Blackfield V" shows a brown bottle against a blue sky.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: "Vermillioncore" and "Permanating" are made-up words.
  • Precision F-Strike: Each of his solo albums from "Hand. Cannot. Erase." onwards have featured at least one.
  • Prefers Going Barefoot: He has a tendency to perform barefoot on stage, which he claims gives him an advantage when it comes to operating various guitar pedals. This has led to Agony of the Feet — "I've stepped on nails, screws, drawing pins, stubbed my toe, I've come off stage with blood just coming out… I mean, I've had it all mate, but to be honest, nothing's going to stop me."
  • Progressive Metal: Started moving into it in the early 2000s, though it's far from his only style.
  • Progressive Rock: His primary genre.
  • Psychedelic Rock: He's never worked exclusively in this, but it's an influence on most of his work.
  • Record Producer: He produces all of his own material, and has remixed quite a few older Progressive Rock records.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: The subject of "Eminent Sleaze" describes himself as "a bona fide reptile".
  • Revisiting the Roots: No-Man's 2019 album "Love You to Bits" harks back to the synth-pop sound of their earlier output.
  • Rockumentary: The 2008 film "Insurgentes", which documents the recording of the album of the same name as well as his travels across Mexico and a number of other places.
  • Scary Musician, Harmless Music: Inverted. Wilson absolutely "loves" to write material that's meant to scare the pants off of himself and his listeners, running the gamut between serial killers. child molesters, drinking contests with The Devil, and more, all while pairing the subject matter with intense metal riffs, hellish electronic drones, and chilling vocal effects. As it turns out, he's actually a pretty chill dude. He also owned a "chihuahua"!
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Does this quite a bit.
  • The Something Song: "Song of I" and "Song of Unborn", as well as "Clock Song", an "unused idea" from the "Raven" sessions.
  • Stoic Spectacles
  • Surreal Music Video: Almost every video of his that doesn't tell some sort of story. Many of them verge into Surreal Horror, such as the video for "Remainder The Black Dog."
  • Synth-Pop
  • Take That!:
    • "Personal Shopper" is a less-than-subtle one towards materialist consumer culture, though Wilson has said that it's less of a biting criticism and more of a playful send-up of a culture that he and millions of others willingly partake in.
    • "Follower" takes aim at Instagram influencers.
  • Textless Album Cover: "Unreleased Electronic Music Vol 1", plus most of his recent solo work.
  • Title by Number: , so-called because it serves as an interim release between Hand. Cannot. Erase. and To the Bone.
  • Uncommon Time: Naturally.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: ''Hand. Cannot. Erase.", with the only similarities between the album and the source material being that the protagonist is a woman who gradually isolates herself from the rest of the world.
  • Villain Song: "Index" off of "Grace for Drowning", which was inspired by John Fowles' novel The Collector. Bonus points for the music video further pushing the song into potential Nightmare Fuel territory.
    • "People Who Eat Darkness" off of "To the Bone" is another example, with the song being sung from the perspective of a nameless, faceless terrorist who assimilates themselves into their respective society.
    • Also off "To the Bone" is "Detonation", which is sung from the perspective of a terrorist who uses an unnamed god to justify their prejudice and the actions that come of it. This one was directly inspired by the Pulse Nightclub shooting that took place in 2016.
  • When He Smiles: Most photos of Wilson always show him in a sort of neutral/angry look. But there are times where he's actually seen smiling or even laughing. Case in point.