Album Review: Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.

The night sky is black. The clouds cover the moon. It’s 9:00 pm, and I race to my computer in anticipation of the big event of the week. To my excitement, his latest album is already available for download. A few minutes later, it’s sitting there on my laptop, enticing me, urging me, wanting to be listened. I can’t help myself; I have been waiting months for this release. After listening to the album, I unconsciously choose to repeat it. During this time, I contemplate how to describe what I feel about this amazing album. Now as the clock creeps towards midnight, I have finally finished this next post, an album review for a man I highly admire. For those of you who haven’t heard Steven Wilson, I suggest you take a seat and learn about this marvelous man.
Residing in England, Steven Wilson is a multi-instrumentalist, better known as the mastermind behind the band Porcupine Tree, my second favorite band to Coheed and Cambria. Now in his third decade of music, Wilson has released many albums from many different bands, contributed to many more albums from other bands, and has even produced/mixed other bands’ albums. His fingerprints are everywhere, and his popularity is apparent in the progressive rock scene, a fan base that has helped him be nominated four times for the Grammy Awards. Just today, Wilson has released his fourth solo album, a wonderful piece of music called “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” With support from Guthrie Govan on lead guitar, Nick Beggs on bass guitar, Adam Holzman on keyboard, and Marco Minnemann on drums/percussion, Ninet Tayeb on backing vocals, and Theo Travis on flute/saxophone, this album shows the culmination of Wilson’s entire work. Ranging from progressive rock, to electronic rock, to even moments of pop rock, “Hand. Cannot. Erase” is easily one of his best albums.

Based loosely on the actual events of the tragic story of Joyce Carol Vincent (You can find her story on Wikipedia. I don’t want to retell that sad story), the concept behind this album is very touching, melancholic, and reflective. To summarize, the concept of the album revolves around a woman who lives a very isolated life in a large city. One day, she disappears from plain site, and is not noticed by any friends, family, or strangers. Each song tells another chapter in the story of the main character, and each song provides a launching point towards the next event on the album. The overall mood is very somber, almost depressing in a way, with moments of intensity depending on where you are at in the plot. I love reflecting on this album about my own life, and how sometimes we can ignore or even neglect others, whether strangers or acquaintances. Leave it to Steven Wilson to provide one of the most insightful and introspective albums of the year.

Steven Wilson
Photo by RockNConcert

The sound is much softer than his previous album “The Raven That Refused to Sing,” which was much more jazzy, much more progressive, and much harder than “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” Despite this change of sound, this album is much more relaxing and less erratic, almost mimicking the sound of albums made by his main band Porcupine Tree. The songs “Hand Cannot Erase” and “Perfect Life” are softer, using electronic sounds and clean guitar, which perfectly lead to the beginning of the next song “Routine.” This album is not entirely soft, though, as proven in the songs “Home Invasion,” “Regret #9,” and “Ancestral.” Wilson’s older solo work is evident in these songs, almost playing off similar rhythms in the song “Raider II” from his second release “Grace for Drowning.” The bass guitar and keyboards perfectly complement each other in the song “Home Invasion,” the bass guitar generating a very dirty, distorted sound while the keys lift things up with a 70’s-like sound a la Yes. Each instrument on this album peaks in different moments, which help the listener know when an instrument is being highlighted.

It’s hard determining what of this album is my favorite. It comes down to Steven Wilson’s vocals (being one of my favorite singers and overall musicians) and Marco Minnemann’s drumbeats (being one of my favorite drummers). Wilson’s vocals are so iconic in the progressive rock scene, and has the ability to make me stop whatever I’m doing. Minnemann’s talent behind the drums has the same impact on me, and is perfectly evidenced in the song “3 Years Older.” I will have to call this a tie before I start rambling on either person. Nevertheless, “Hand. Cannot. Erase” has the perfect moments for those enjoying great vocals or awesome drum beats. It also contains some great moments of Beggs’ groovy bass lines (“3 Years Older”), Holzman’s jazzy keyboard solos “Regret #9”), and Govan’s elevated guitar solos (“Happy Returns”).

Steven Wilson
Photo by StevenWilsonHQ

It’s now past 12:00 am, and I am thoroughly happy with Steven Wilson’s “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” I’ll now wait to post this until a time when most the world’s awake. I highly recommend this album to those who like anything Steven Wilson has ever touched, but also to those who are fans of bands like Lunatic Soul, Haken, Pain of Salvation, Anathema, and even Opeth. I also recommend this album to those who like something a little different, since this album contains contradictory moments of 70’s-like rock, electronic rock, pop rock, jazz and more. Please support this album by searching for it on iTunes. Steven Wilson is currently touring, and may hit a city near you. Having seen him only once several years ago, I am heavily anticipating his Los Angeles show in June, as I’ll be there with my beautiful wife and attempt to make her a fan of them. I seriously cannot wait!
Purchase “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” by Steven Wilson by clicking the album cover above!