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Porcupine Tree: In Absentia (DVD-A)
Here's a spectacular DVD-Audio disc that comes seemingly from out of nowhere. I had never heard of Porcupine Tree before this enticing surround disc made its way into my player, and now it's going to take quite a lot of convincing to get me to remove it. In Absentia is a fascinating marriage of dreamy, harmonized vocals and huge guitars and drums that you just want to turn up and up and up. This is a disc that satisfies your love for creative lyrical work but that also shakes your home's foundation. Bravo to DTS Entertainment for taking a chance on this captivating music.
A powerful progressive-rock band with a few albums to their name, Porcupine Tree has apparently developed an intense though modest following, both here and in the United Kingdom. They have the sound of a band that is about to find a larger audience and wider airplay. Their music assaults you with sound, but not messily, and is fronted by confidently lush vocal arrangements.
The disc starts with a jolt, in Blackest Eyes, a crash of guitar leading to a surprisingly laidback vocals from front man Steven Wilson. At first, the juxtaposition of hard, driving drums and guitar with almost gentle voicework seems odd, and it does take a little getting used to, but after some listening, it seems quite natural. The band isn't afraid of layering vocals, either, and many of the backup vocals sit firmly in the rear channels. Above all, this is a well-recorded, memorable song that sets up the tone for the rest of the disc. Trains comes next, a much softer, nostalgic tune that shows you the band has quite a bit up its sleeve. Gentle guitar work at the front gives way to another rocking blast of guitars and synth, then back again. My wife loved the hand-clapping interlude that emerges halfway through, panning around the sweet spot, along with the light banjo accompaniment.
My favorite track on the disc is probably The Sound of Muzak, a catchy though somewhat obviously written song about the state of the music industry. I like the way this song starts toward the front of the soundstage, then opens up to really envelope you. Gravity Eyelids ended up annoying me a bit with the lilting refrain of that odd title phrase, but it's interesting musically: It starts out ever-so-gently, almost dreamily, then after a little preamble, explodes into a wall of guitar, bass, synthesizer, and even laser-blast blips to the right and left. Wedding Nails is a wailing instrumental complete with industrial effects and the usual guitar riff and drum crush. Prodigal turns up next as typical of the rest of the album, with its big riffs and soft-spoken, harmonized vocals that swirl around you. The Creator Has a Master Tape gets your attention right away, pricking your ears to the left and proceeding with its grunged-out, processed vocals, then evolving to a blast of sonic static that fills the room. Next comes my second favorite track of the disc, the haunting Heartattack in a Layby, which offers a more traditional harmony and is far more laidback than most of the album. It's a surprisingly affecting song, and I'm just talking about its instrumental melancholy. Check out the back-and-forth vocals across the right and left rears.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
I tested both the DTS 5.1 track and the DVD-Audio track. Truth be told, I preferred the DTS presentation. Both tracks are encoded at 24 bits/48KHz, not the maximum resolution of 24/96, but apparently the music was recorded at the lower resolution, so nothing is lost here. But the DTS track seems to have received the lion's share of attention from DTS Entertainment.
This is a fantastically enjoyable mix, in either case. It never comes across as gimmicky, and even when it sends an instrument or harmonized focal to a discrete channel, it seems an inherent part of the song rather than a sonic effect. I love the way many of these songs blast into fullness at certain moments, filling my theater with lush sound. The blasts of guitar riffs seem to occupy my entire soundstage, and then Wilson's voice lifts as if disembodied from the instrumentation. You can almost sense him hovering there.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The disc also offers three Bonus Tracks, in equally excellent surround mixes: Drown With Me, Chloroform, and Futile.
You also get three Music Videos, for Blackest Eyes, Strip The Soul, and Wedding Nails. These videos are accompanied by their surround mixes. DTS versions of their surround mixes. Wrapping things up are Lyrics, a Still Gallery, and a Biography of Porcupine Tree.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
I'm hooked on Porcupine Tree and will be searching out their back catalog. This is an extremely well-mixed DVD-Audio/DTS presentation. Here's hoping the high-resolution music format sees more releases like this one.