* Prices may differ from that shown
Blackfield are a niche supergroup. Most people will never have heard of them, but if you're a fan of contemporary music in Israel, there's every chance you'd be very familiar with one half of the duo behind this band. Aviv Geffen is a superstar over there, and is also well known for his outspoken, peace campaigning, political views. The other half of the duo is Steven Wilson, currently employed remixing and re-jigging the entire King Crimson back-catalogue into 5.1, and fitting in a bit of work on Jethro Tull's Aqualung while he's at it. He's also the brains behind rising British band Porcupine Tree (best known in prog-metal circles at present), and one half of the almost genre -unclassifiable No-Man, apart from countless other things he has underway at any given time. Between them, they have been writing some fine rock-pop songs over the last ten years or so, the first manifestation of which was this album, imaginatively titled Blackfield, released in January 2004.
Most of the songs are collaborations lyrically, but on this album Steven Wilson takes the majority of the lead vocals. Geffen wrote the majority of the music, with two songs each getting solo credits (Wilson wrote Blackfield and Lullaby, while Geffen wrote Pain and The Hole in Me). Here's a quick track-by-track guide:
1. OPEN MIND - a gentle melodic introduction, acoustic guitar riff and vocal harmonies leading to a crashing electric guitar, then back to the harmonies again, a combination of sounds repeated throughout the song. Lyrically it's poetically obscure - it has a bit of a repressed love-type theme, but I find it's generally an uplifting song!
2. BLACKFIELD - written by Steven Wilson, a strong rhythm and melody run throughout this pop-rock song, named after what was literally a black field near where he grew up. Lyrically, every couple of lines references said field, mentioning various things either found or done in it, and not surprisingly a girl is involved.
3. GLOW - an introspective, thoughtful song, not surprising since the song talks about being very low, and self-harm. The first part is without percussion, just Wilson's vocal, keys and strings - Geffen's vocal kicks in with the drums and guitars in a frantic and pleading end to the song. Live, Geffen's solo, piano-accompanied performance of this song is very moving.
4. SCARS - this song about a troubled relationship has a definite bounce to it, with the bass and drum maintaining an off beat that I feel gives the song a quirky catchiness. It even briefly drops into a club vibe in the middle eight for some reason!
5. LULLABY - an intense piano and vocal song, with strings added later in the song. Its hard to tell whether it's written from the point of view of an abused adult or child. One thing's for certain, the contrasts between each line in the song (written by Wilson) are at times extreme - "Do no harm / Twist my arm / Lie with grace / Smash my face". It is a disturbing song, even more so due to the lullaby-like melody.
6. PAIN - Geffen takes the lead vocals in this broken-hearted song of lost love, a pop-rock number with a great melody and a catchy, if sad, chorus - one that you can sing out with if you're feeling sad and abandoned.
7. SUMMER - For some reason, I tend to forget this track, could just be that I always think it's called 'Heart Needs a Home' since that's the most often repeated line in the song. It's not exactly filler, but it's not quite an attention grabber either. With Wilson on vocals again, it's a slowish ballad, a pleasant enough summery song, but in my opinion the least strong on the album, despite some beautifully mellow guitar work.
8. CLOUDY NOW - This is a translation from Hebrew into English of Geffen's song "Achshav Me'oonan". It's very much about his home and the state of his own generation. Wilson takes the lead vocal, at first with only guitar and keyboard, slowly building up quite a sinister atmosphere as the other instruments come in, until it reaches the angry climax as the frustration with his generation boils over. The only song with the f-word on the album, for those who find that a problem.
9. THE HOLE IN ME - Geffen takes over the vocals again, with the verses on an off-beat accompanied by a mandolin and keyboard. Wilson joins in for the chorus, accompanied by the full band. The song seems to be about loneliness and trying to solve it, at least temporarily, with the trappings of fame, but being unable to settle with all of the attention. A great chorus to sing a long to!
10. HELLO - the last track of the album is an ironic greeting, as it is indeed about saying goodbye. A minor-key pop-rock outing with Wilson on lead vocals, with a wistful chorus.
While you may well guess from my track descriptions that this album isn't exactly ground-breaking, it is, however, a very good album, a very solid collection of rock-pop songs sung with passion; beautifully orchestrated, harmonised and produced by Steven Wilson. Personally, as a Wilson fan, one of the parts I enjoy is his often subtle guitar work. Although he hasn't until fairly recently seen himself as a guitarist (his main instrument used to be the keyboard), he is a great player and composer, and I enjoy listening to and watching him playing very much. There isn't really a place for soaring solos in Blackfield's music, so it's colouring and shading here, which he does beautifully and almost without you noticing.
Geffen's voice is always heartfelt and passionate, it's quite unusual as well and a few people find him a bit hard to listen to as his is a very rough, almost damaged vocal at times. Together they have made a great collaborative collection of songs which they were to build on several years later with another two albums (so far!) - so this comes recommended to anyone who enjoys their pop music with a bit more thought and heart than your processed commercial radio fodder.
After having been 'invited' to play in Israel by Aviv Geffen with Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson and Aviv hooked up on an on-and-off basis to create Blackfield.
This debut self titled outing is very well presented, although sadly the comparisons to any other Wilson related output ends here. Blackfield seems to be an outlet for a more simplistic pop rock and after having seen them live; many of the quieter, less eventful tracks don't transfer very well into the live setting.
A few of these tracks Aviv actually wrote himself including the powerful and moving Cloudy Now which was written about his native Israel. As well as this highlight, the title track is one of the best songs because of its catchyness and originality.
Sadly though, for me the albums has too many quiet, uninteresting filler tracks which lower its overall effectiveness, although this International Edition contains a bonus CD with a couple of extra tracks and a video to the title track which was directed by Lasse Hoile.
Steven Wilson (front man of British progressive rock band "Porcupine Tree") and Aviv Geffen (a close friend of Wilson's and something of a star in his homeland of Israel) team up to create the rock band "Blackfield".
Wilson commented in an interview that his vision for Blackfield was to produce a set of true "songs" on this album. Porcupine Tree, his lead project, are known (and championed) by their fans for writing extremely complex and often lengthy tracks - not so radio friendly, but great fun for the keen progressive rock listener!
Wilson's voice dominates in this album - slightly thin, slightly reedy, but oh so wonderfully layered and harmonised. Geffen's thickly accented voice shines on only a few tracks - notably "Pain", with it's heavier, moody verses and soaring chorus. Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree's long standing drummer) is incredibly restrained on this album - very much in fitting with the "simpler" approach to song writing and performance. This is not to say that the drumming is boring though - it's executed precisely and, from time to time, Harrison has a little fun in some of his fills. As far as the other instruments go, the album is quite exquisitely put together - atmospheric synths and strings, gentle guitars that just seem to brush past you (see title track "Blackfield") and some very neat electric guitar work. No extended guitar solos, no lengthy passages of riffing - just clean and simple music. Very well produced too - everything comes through sharp and clear. Wilson oversees the production of all his work and is a tyrant for perfection!
So musically, this album is great. But what about the actual SONGS? Well, the title track stands out - bleak, harsh, beautiful, "Blackfield" paints a detailed picture of this mysterious place, with talk of cycle paths, paper bags and the haunting line: "Summer tracks, face facts, painted black...". The piano intro of this piece is lovely. Check out the video on YouTube as well - very clever concept.
Other highlights (for me at least) include "Lullaby" and "Cloudy Now" - both beautiful in their sadness. Unfortunately, I find many of the tracks a little lacking in the "lyrics department". "Pain" and "Hole in Me" both feel rather empty - though I can appreciate the emotion that the songwriters (Wilson and Geffen) are trying to express. The follow up album (rather disappointingly titled "Blackfield II") highlights still further the slightly "school boy" reminiscing style of the lyrics. There's lots of allusion to lost love, yet it's not dealt with in a particularly mature fashion.
To conclude, I feel this album has enough highlights on it to make it worth the money (I've seen it around for about £6 - well worth it). Production is flawless and the music (ignoring the lyrics) is consistently strong. If you're a fan of PT's "quieter" songs like "Heart Attack in a Lay-By" or "Mellotron Scratch" then I imagine you'll like this a lot. If, on the other hand, you're into their heavier work, then you may be disappointed.
Blackfield pretends to be a collaboration between Steve Wilson of popular English modern progressive rock band Porcupine Tree and Israeli singer Aviv Geffen, though in reality the multinational flavour and presence of two vocalists is merely a cunning disguise for Wilson to embark on a more pop-oriented solo project away from the demands of prog fans. In truth, Geffen is hardly present on this recording at all, only taking lead vocal duties in a couple of songs (such as 'Pain') and otherwise being confined to backing singing in the choruses. It's also unlikely that he contributed very much to the songwriting, considering it sounds exactly like Porcupine Tree's more commercial, indie period of the 'Stupid Dream' and 'Lightbulb Sun' albums, only softer, shorter and far more predictable.
Porcupine Tree fans may be disappointed or excited about how similar this sounds to Wilson's other work, and I suppose I felt a little of both, though it would have been more enjoyable to hear Geffen sing more often considering how repetitive Wilson's voice can be. Opening song 'Open Mind' features a hard rocking electric guitar riff very reminiscent of 'Lighbulb Sun,' but after that point, the album exclusively favours a mellow style, performed on acoustic guitars, piano and a good ol' mellotron, particularly prominent in 'Glow' for old-time prog fans who need their fix. Wilson performs pleasant, extended guitar solos on a couple of songs, most notably the eponymous 'Blackfield,' but most songs aren't permitted the time to indulge in very much outside of their verses and chorus, this being directed towards a more mainstream audience in a bid that may not have proved entirely successful.
1. Open Mind
8. Cloudy Now
9. The Hole in Me
Disc #1 Tracklisting
7 Cloudy Now
8 Hole In Me