A melancholy score evoking the cinematic sense of a silent film, “A Drop In The Ocean” sets the tone for Blackfield V in ninety-six seconds. The record, due for release on February 10, is a return to full collaboration between British progressive music producer/solo artist Steven Wilson and Israeli musician/songwriter Aviv Geffen. Where Blackfield’s past two outings, 2013’s Blackfield IV and 2011’s Welcome to My DNA saw minimal contributions from Wilson, the group’s fifth record has completely shared duties between the two musicians. Centered on an ocean theme, this artistic, accessible rock album seems to be Blackfield’s most mature and polished album to date.
“Family Man” carries some of the somber orchestration from “A Drop In The Ocean” over huge, John Bonham-esque drums and lyrics like ‘Breathe in/Breath out/You had your shot/You blew it all.’ Whereas much of Wilson’s recent work is steeped in progressive rock tradition, this song showcases a distinctly modern, streamlined take on the genre: distorted yet subtle riffing underlie reverb-soaked leads. Porcupine Tree’s Fear of a Blank Planet comes to mind at times, but to a less ambitious extent. One of the most energetic tracks on the record, “Family Man” is a pounding introduction to Blackfield’s fifth outing.
In juxtaposition to the previous track’s modern approach, bubbling psychedelia and soft strings akin to Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” form the brunt of the “How Was Your Ride?”. It is songs like this one that showcase the world-class compositional skills leading Blackfield. The Pink Floyd comparison is a clear one throughout most of the record’s thirteen tracks; gentle tempos, ambient vocals and the London Session Orchestra’s strings all evoke the approach of the legendary group.
“The Jackal” is a bluesy, comparatively gritty track, featuring a fuzzed out guitar hook. Considering the subtle, polished feel of Blackfield V, the song is a welcome change of pace. “Undercover Heart” has a distinct yet understated funk rhythm that is a unique companion to its string-heavy arrangement and calm chorus. “Lonely Soul” welcomes a hip-hop beat and a guest vocal feature into the gently orchestrated, if somewhat painfully repetitive, refrain of ‘Everything is broken/Everything is chaos.’ “From 44 to 48” counters the mournful tone of the record with a celebratory, deliberate chord progression that closes the thirteen track outing with tasteful, drawn out lead guitar work. These brief analyses demonstrate the record’s recurring songwriting approach: Verse sections that incorporate blues, hip-hop and jazz all seem to lead their way to soft, string-accompanied choruses. Though it creates a thorough cohesion, this pattern can be somewhat tiring and predictable. Unfortunately, this repetitiveness does not lend much staying power to the record.
The collaboration between Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen is a singular and enjoyable one. Both songwriters seem to complement each other. The artistic, melancholic tone of the record creates a meditative feel that is rarely disturbed throughout the thirteen tracks. In this way, it can be easy to drift off or lose oneself in the gentle vibes. However, hues of blues, rock and hip-hop help differentiate between the thirteen individual tracks. The warm, stunningly clear sound of the record is a testament to the gifts of Wilson and legendary producer Alan Parsons. Though not as gripping or as ambitious as I have come to expect from the composers, Blackfield V is a beautiful meditation on artistic rock.
FFO: Steven Wilson, Pink Floyd
Notable Tracks: “Family Man”; “How Was Your Ride?”