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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 pop superstar there, and is also well known for his outspoken, peace campaigning, political views. The other half of the duo is Steven Wilson. Currently enjoying an increasingly successful solo career, he's also the brains behind British rock band Porcupine Tree, and one half of the almost genre -unclassifiable No-Man. Together, when opportunity allows, they have been writing fine rock-pop songs together since they first met in 2000. This, their third album, was released early in 2011.
The two previous albums (Blackfield and Blackfield 2) were collaboratively written, but with this one Geffen wrote all but one of the songs. This I found very interesting as the whole album has a far more progressive sound to my ears then the previous two. Wilson's own music has leaned ever more towards 'Prog Rock' over the last few years, so I had expected him to have had a bigger hand in the writing than he had! This goes to show Geffen's own development away from conventional pop rock in this project. In terms of performance, they take an almost equal role in vocals and instruments (guitars and keyboards). The rest of the band are Eran Mitelman on piano and Hammond organ, Seffi Efrati on bass guitar, and Tomer Z on drums and percussion. Strings are provided by the London Session Orchestra.
The CD is presented in a hardback book style digipak rather than a conventional jewel case. and contains the lyrics to all the songs, the musician credits and acknowledgements, together with several portrait shots of Geffen and Wilson, with the rest of the band being featured near the back of the booklet too.
1. GLASS HOUSE - the album begins with a "Goodbye", literally - a farewell song, which sounds a like a goodbye to his own country. Written by Geffen, it's almost strange that Wilson sings it as it's almost certainly about his native Israel. It is slow-paced, almost anthemic-sounding. Maybe because it starts with the word goodbye it has something of the sound of a final track about it. The initial vocal is sung over a quiet synth backing, the band coming in at the end of the first verse, with a repeated guitar phrase that recurs after verses throughout the song. The 'middle eight' is a change of mood with a more contemplative verse sung over piano, but then the band come back in and it returns to the main tempo, with a melodic vocal harmony section where a guitar solo might have been. The song ends quite suddenly after a repeat of the first verse, with very little gap before...
2. GO TO HELL - this track caused much controversy amongst the fans due to the language used. The title isn't the problem, the multiple usage of the F word is. The irony for me was that it was people who use the word often in normal conversations that seemed to be the most offended by it, excusing their discomfort by saying that the song is immature. Well, it is definitely limited in its lyrics ("F*** you all, f*** you, I don't care anymore, go to hell"). The song was said to be expressing his anger towards the upbringing that he had from his parents, maybe he found it cathartic? Sensibly, it's sung by Geffen. My personal opinion is that actually I find it quite a powerful song - the way that the words fit the melody, and the way that the song builds musically, are very effective, and I don't find it offensive. If anything, it's desperately sad if that is really how he feels towards his parents after all those years (he's currently 39). It is the only song on the album with such strong language, and if you feel that you would be offended by it, then the skip button would be your friend at this point.
3. RISING OF THE TIDE - vocals are shared on this track, starting with Wilson accompanied by piano, but it slides into a slightly pedestrian rhythmic melody when the band come in. Lyrically, it begins by encouraging you make the most of everyday, but the words soon turn to list all of the things that slow you down and stop you from doing this. In this case, it seems to refer to the problems that come with fame. It has a feel of resignation and sadness about the words and music, emphasised by the simple guitar solo and orchestra at the end, both of which have a mournful sound.
4. WAVING - the only Wilson-penned song on the album is a lively, guitar and string-driven pop song, with lead vocals and harmonies both being sung by himself. Staccato strings add to the lightness of the music throughout. In all honesty, in what is a very melancholic and introspective album, this song is a welcome breath of fresh air! Like several tracks on the album, the initial vocal is sung over sparse accompaniment, with instruments in this case gradually being added, building up layers until the middle verse and 'la la la' chorus where the song really cuts loose. Flute, guitar, strings and percussion play out in a more subdued manner at the end.
5. FAR AWAY - sung by Wilson, the pace slows again for an acoustic guitar-led piece, with swelling strings as it moves through a song that speaks of the despondency that comes from not just being far from home, but feeling as if you don't belong even when you're there.
6. DISSOLVING WITH THE NIGHT - vocals are shared again on this track, which builds from an initial impassioned vocal from Geffen accompanied only by the piano, with the orchestra driving the rhythm to a dramatic climactic crescendo, before dropping out for the quiet, haunting final verse with the piano. Lyrically, it's also haunting, telling a story of panic, unfulfilled dreams, the shallowness of others, and ending with a promise to be out of everyone's way soon: "soon I'll disappear into the deepest space, I won't leave a trace."One of my favourites on the album, it communicates a real sense of desperation and urgency in the way that the orchestra, in particular, is arranged to complement the words.
7. BLOOD - This is mostly an instrumental, with a very middle-eastern feel to it courtesy of the lively guitar rhythm and the presence of the Tar (percussion instrument), Oud and Saz (both similar to lutes), all played by Yankale Segal. I think (although I'm not 100% percent sure) that it's just Aviv singing the repeated single line "Here comes the blood", harmonising with himself.
8. ON THE PLANE - Wilson sings this slower song, about a child's anticipation of their father's return, but also a desire to be away from the neighbourhood which is boring him.
9. OXYGEN - Geffen takes the lead vocals for this quicker-paced melodic pop song, which was produced by the legendary Trevor Horn, who also provided some extra keyboards.
10. ZIGOTA - Wilson's turn again, fittingly, for the most prog song on the album. Also fittingly it's about mortality, death specifically, which is one of his pet subjects. Melodically it has some twists and turns, percussion drops in and out, and for the first part it is quite slow, picking up a little more momentum as it goes along, eventually going into a brief full-blown loud proggy moment with off-beats and time-signature juggling. This is probably my favourite track, and I wish the prog bit lasted a little longer...
11. DNA - shared vocals to finish, they both sing in harmony for the song's duration. The final song is a sad one, with a mournful melody to accompany lyrics that speak of a built-in destructiveness that drives away loved ones.
The album has an overriding sense of melancholy and introspection, something that has typified all three of their albums so far. The songs are always strong on melody, 'proper' instruments and the craft of song-writing, and this has some more ambitious than usual songs on it (Dissolving.. and Zigota being particular diversions from the Blackfield safe ground), but the more conventional songs aren't groundbreaking. Still not every song needs to be; a simple melody, a strong lyric and a sincere performance is all it needs to impress the subject on the listener. This isn't an album to choose to cheer yourself up though, as you've probably gathered already! A fourth is on its way with less contributions from Wilson this time, as he doesn't feel that he can commit enough time to this project to do it justice at present, due to his increasing other commitments.
I do recommend this album, for fans of melancholy pop-rock with a hint of the progressive about it. It's available from their artist shop on independent distributor Burning shed's website for £11.99 plus postage (it's still also available on vinyl there, only 2000 were pressed, and that version is 14.99 plus postage). Of course it's lurking around the usual online retailers too, currently starting at a hair over £6.