Music Reviews
Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Steven Wilson Hand. Cannot. Erase.

(Kscope) Rating - 9/10
Steven Wilson is a renaissance man in today's music scene. Given the progressive rock/metal of Porcupine Tree, the pop rock of Blackfield, the hard-to-categorize No-Man and his own solo work that pulls from all parts of his career, the man has carved out one of the most varied, and consistently excellent, discographies of the last 20 years. And that doesn't change with his latest, Hand. Cannot. Erase. While 2013's The Raven That Refused To Sing was good, it also felt like the forward-looking Wilson had glanced back, writing a record inspired by the 1970s progressive movement. With multiple songs clocking in over 10 minutes, filled with instrumental, jazzy segments, it didn't have the appeal of Wilson's other work, which tempered his love of prog with his musical instincts for fantastic, memorable melodies. 
Hand. Cannot. Erase. sets him back on track though, basically meaning that he follows no track at all. Instead, he has crafted a gorgeous, inventive concept album inspired by Joyce Vincent, a young British woman who died in her bedsit and wasn't discovered for more than two years. Wilson explores how someone with a family and friends could go missing for so long without anyone noticing, putting a lense on the near-overwhelming shuffle of everyday life. After a short intro, the sun-soaked strings of Three Years Older kick off the record properly, giving way to an electrifying guitar riff that straddles the line between dawn and dusk. Alternating between instrumental passages and slower, vocal portions, this song keeps you guessing. In its 10 minutes, you never know whether the next segment will be fast or slow, loud or quiet. Doesn't matter though. All sides will equally keep your attention.
The title track proves that despite shying away from simple numbers the past few years, Wilson's ability to write straightforward, catchy tunes hasn't diminished at all. In a just world, this beautiful, pure slice of pop, with its driving riff, would be a massive hit. With lines like "It's not you, forgive me if I find I need more space/Cause trust means we don't have to be together everyday," he hits home at relationship issues without losing the brightness of what is basically a love song. Still, Wilson's not exactly known for keeping things light. Routine and Home Invasion are both sick with tension, though in very different ways. The former is a piano ballad that slowly ratchets up the pressure of domestic oppression until it bursts with a welcome performance by Israeli artist Ninet Tayeb, who brings a fresh voice and perspective to the song. Home Invasion is a seething, swarming track that plays out like its title suggests. The first half bubbles with panic, the musical equivalent of hearing a windowpane shatter when you're home alone. Once the lyrics kick in for the keyboard-heavy back end though, you realize that maybe the invasion is simply the existence of the world outside your door.
Even when Wilson embraces his progressive tendencies, the songs remain as strong and accessible as ever. Though Perfect Life stumbles a bit with its spoken-word vocals, it's saved by the percussion and Wilson's fantastic falsetto. Regret #9 breaks out a funky electronic keyboard, pulsating and vibrant, and follows it up with a sharp guitar solo. Wrap up with a slow banjo strumming and you have a weird, enticing track. Out of all the songs here, Ancestral  reflects the vibe of Raven the most. Creepy, foreboding, and atmospheric, its simple piano chords are augmented by a flute and strings that slip along like dripping acid. The chorus blossoms with angelic harmonious chanting, before the whole song spirals into an epic metal cacophony. The album ends with the serene, radiant Happy Returns. Bringing us back down to Earth after Ancestral, Wilson finishes his protagonist's tale with a note of hope. While he notes that she's been gone a long time ("The years just pass like trains/I wave but they don't slow down"), it ultimately feels like she'll return to the loved ones she left behind.
Hand. Cannot. Erase. is an incredible addition to Wilson's body of work. Drawing from the simple and the complicated, progressive and pop, light and darkness, it proves that no force can erase his talent and standing as one of the best and most underrated musicians of today.