Blackfield is a collaboration between English musician, Steven Wilson and founder of rock band Porcupine Tree, and Israeli rock singer Aviv Geffen. Geffen, a follower of Porcupine Tree he invited the band in the year 2000 to play at his shows in Israel. This led to the two performers forming a friendship and recording together. Geffen sung backing vocals on two Porcupine Tree tracks: On In Absentia album, “The Sound of Muzak” and “Prodigal”. As Geffen was interested in growing a fan base outside of Israel he then approached Wilson about starting their own project, which would become Blackfield.
They have produced four albums which included: Blackfield and Blackfield II as equal partners, and Welcome to my DNA and Blackfield IV with Geffen taking a leading role. Wilson initially announced his desire to leave the project in 2014 but instead began working again as an equal partner on a fifth album, Blackfield V, which is due for release on Kscope on February 10, 2017.
Between them they have an impressive back catalogue. Geffen has worked with legendary producers Tony Visconti and Trevor Horn, has played live with U2 and Placebo, and is currently a judge on the Israeli TV show The Voice. Wilson, after a successful career as the leader of the hugely influential band Porcupine Tree, has since achieved a highly successful solo career, achieving 3 UK top 40 albums (the most recent also making the top 3 in Germany, and The Netherlands), and 4 Grammy nominations.
The album was written and recorded over an 18-month period in both Israel and England and contains 13 linked songs with apparently a theme of the ocean. Legendary producer/engineer Alan Parsons has worked on three of the album’s key tracks. With the two musicians, confidently on vocals, guitars, and keyboards, Tomer Z from the Blackfield band came in on drums, Eran Mitelman on keys, and string arrangements were performed by the London Session Orchestra. A Drop in the Ocean is a 96-second introduction of emotive, orchestrated sound before track two Family Man sets the scene: a signature rock track with swooping vocals and an urging guitar. I really liked this and found it moving. “It’s no shame to be a family man”. This is beautifully produced and probably my favourite track.
From the tinkle of a piano reminiscent of rain against a window there’s a definite progressive rock feel to How Was Your Ride? This has a very Pink Floyd feel (indeed Porcupine Tree sometimes had comparisons with them), particularly around the guitar solo around two minutes in. We’ll Never Be Apart starts with Geffen on vocals (very REM-inspired) that are strong and fluid with lavish orchestration and the profound refrain of the title. This is a stand-out track.
Sorrys was released last December with Family Man and How Was Your Ride as part of a three-track video album teaser and again has beautifully arranged harmonies. This song is sung gently but the lyrics have bite. “Sorrys, seven years of sorrys”. Life Is An Ocean is dreamily evocative and there’s a definite Alan Parsons influence on this (I’m not sure if this was one of the three tracks he produced on the album but I wouldn’t be surprised). It’s piano-driven until halfway when it builds to a crescendo of drums and guitar. Lately kicks up the tempo with a glimpse of crunchy guitars and surreal lyrics. “The creatures crawl and get you down, there’s no getaway”. The introduction of a lilting female vocal halfway through singing “Everywhere I go, all I find is shadows.” brings a Never-Ending Story effect to the whole affair.
So far I’d really enjoyed this album but whilst October has a lovely melodic feel it started veering into stage musical territory which unfortunately put me off it. Luckily Jackal redeemed it for me with that warble-esque/Michael Stipe style vocal of Geffen’s that works so well. This is wistful in places and slightly indie-guitar inspired, the sort of track that melts a furrowed brow at the end of a hard day.
Continuing the ocean inspired theme is Saltwater, a lullaby of a guitar solo with a string arrangement in the background. What more could you want? Undercover Heart combines male/female harmonies that work well. I can imagine this on a film soundtrack, possibly a Bond film, it’s very dramatic and vocal driven. Lonely Soul combines the constant refrain of a “I’m a lonely soul” with a female vocal intertwined with “Everything is broken, everything is chaos”. It borders onto Moby territory but take this as a compliment. Closing track From 44 to 48 drew me in with its lyrics, the narration of the protagonist’s life. A melancholic song that ends the album on a powerful note.
This is a mesmerising album with some clever melodies, vocals and arrangements. At times I wanted the album to step up more of a gear in terms of tempo as displayed on rocker Family Man but then Blackfield’s intention was to create simpler art pop songs something they have carried off with true elegance and inventiveness.