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Porcupine Tree: The Virtual And The Visceral

For all its technical polish and fastidiousness in the studio, Porcupine Tree is often obsessed with technology's dark side. But the band has always conveyed a healthy skepticism for its own tools.

The Incident, Porcupine Tree's latest, focuses on how distancing words like "incident" turn suffering from natural and man-made disasters into mere box scores. The recording revisits pivotal events — both from the newspapers and from the life of singer-songwriter Steven Wilson — in the way a watercolorist might capture a scene while a downpour washes the paint off the canvas.

The arrangement of "Drawing the Line" veers between gentle keyboards — tinkling like a clinically depressed music box — and Wilson's crisp, soaring guitar solos, supported by sympathetic, nuanced drumming. Lyrically, the verses mix visceral and virtual imagery: "Dreamt the sound of stitches cutting out and discarding the used / recording all my problems on memory cards, your compassion unmoved." Wilson then delivers a bold ultimatum in his sweetly sardonic voice: "I take control / and I save my soul." Here, as on most of The Incident, the outcome might be unclear, but the bravado is bracing and welcome.

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Cecile Cloutier