Release DetailsLABEL Peaceville
RELEASED ON 2/19/2008
posted on 5/2008 By:
I loved Fear of a Blank Planet when it came out last spring. I still do. I find the album incredibly moving, even lyrically, and musically I think it's wonderfully complex while being just accessible enough to really sink itself deep into my memory. On all fronts, I think FoaBP stands at least as tall as the two Porcupine Tree albums that preceded it, which is saying a lot, I know, given the high praise for In Absentia especially.
As a Porcupine Tree fan, I also love the pre-In Absentia output, especially Stupid Dream and Up The Downstair. Sometimes I miss their early, proggier, more psychedelic sound - the jams, the flutes, the darkly trippy Pink Floyd-esque soundscapes. But I definitely don't want Stephen Wilson to drop the metal bent seen on the last three records, or the straightforward hooks that have only been getting better with time.
Nil Recurring was made for me, then. And if you share any of my above feelings then Nil Recurring is made for you, too. It's a little like a 29 minutes "best of" Porcupine Tree album consisting of four new songs. The band is still clearly the band of the new FoaBP era, but the tracks often groove more like old Porcupine Tree, with more of a focus on atmospheric progressive rock effect while still pulling in the catchy choruses, technical prowess and of course the superb production value that the band as become known for. There are even some bona fide metal moments here (see "Normal" and "Cheating the Polygraph") and a high profile guest. First track "Nil Recurring" guests Robert Fripp of King Crimson fame on lead guitar, whose soundscapes were also seen (and also stunning) on "Way Out of Here". The track is entirely instrumental but as powerful as anything the band has done before. And Gavin's spectacular drumming is on full display here (as it is everywhere else on the album), especially toward the end of the track.
Despite its short length, this EP should be regarded as a proper mini-album, not a collection of leftovers. It was recorded during the same sessions that produced the FoaBP tracks but these four songs were left off due to not quite fitting in; not, I think, for a lack of quality. The similarities to the FoaBP tracks are readily apparent: "Normal" reworks the chorus from "Sentimental" (and I think actually serves it better); "What Happens Now?" features a riff from "Anesthetize". The former track adds a darker dimension to "Sentimental", keeping with the lyrical themes of FoaBP and the general feel of the album. The abrupt transition into a metal section at 4:35 followed by a segue into the "Sentimental" chorus after the torrent of heavy riffing has subsided at 4:56 is pure magic. "Cheating the Polygraph" was apparently originally intended to sit between "My Ashes" and "Anesthetize" on FoaBP but was cut in the last minute. I don't understand why it was cut, I guess the band knows best, but it's a great track and if it didn't work well enough on the full length, it works very well here. The heavy part around 3:40 that precedes a bridge featuring a guitar solo riding on top of polyrhythmic drumming is a perfect example of old and new PT meshing together beautifully. "What Happens Now?" is the longest track at 8:24, and it might just be my favorite cut of the EP. It starts off quiet and melancholy, adding soundscapes and even a featured electric violin (courtesy of Ben Coleman from No-Man) while it slowly builds toward a guitar solo that sends chills down my spine every time I hear it.
I won't say whether this EP is better or worse than Fear of a Blank Planet. It's different enough to avoid that sort of comparison. Like I said above, it feels very much like a mixture of old and new Porcupine Tree, though thematically in lock step with the new. What I will say is that Nil Recurring is as as good as anything the band has done, and certainly a welcome treat for fans of the band. I wish every band recorded so much strong material that the songs that didn't make their records were good enough for excellent albums all on their own.
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