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Porcupine Tree – Moonloop (90s – 79)

July 26, 2013

If there’s something I love about the 90s it’s the cross-pollination between electronica, especially at the ambient end, and progressive rock. Progressive Rock was still thought of as alive at the time. After the 80s where the original proggers were making bad supergroups or worse pop, there was still a feeling of continuation. Entering into the 90s Steve Hillage would release ambient albums and play with the Orb; onetime King Crimson sax player Mel Collins would term up guesting on trip-hop releases; while Robert Fripp took in the Grid, Future Sound of London as well as releasing his soundscape albums. Even Mike Oldfield tried to create beat-based albums and sampled Apollo missions. Meanwhile going the other way ambient man Banco de Gaia lovingly referenced Pink Floyd on his Big Men Cry album. All of this activity created chatter about progressive rock on newly spawned newgroups and web pages, while arguments raged about about whether OK Computer (the ultimate collage of prog rock references) was a progressive rock album.

Progressive Rock was, in some ways, back.

Into all of this sauntered Porcupine Tree. The band had actually been around since 1987 in the minds of Steve Wilson and a mate who started Porcupine Tree as a hoax. He and a mate created a fictional forgotten prog rock form the 70s, creating back story and biography and cassettes of music to keep up the charade into the 90s. They were to prog what XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphear were to psychedelic, except there was no hiding Andy Partridge or Colin Moulding’s hair in the film clip. The Dukes were a jape, Porcupine Tree a hoax.

After Porcupine Tree was signed to Delerium things got serious. During the next few years Wilson started fleshing out the solo project into a full band, and right in the middle of this transition came a sweet spot of Mooloop EP and the resultant album The Sky Moves Sideways. Not quite the rock of later albums, not quite the psychedelic prog of earlier releases, and incorporating samples, Moonloop saw the Porcupine Tree align with the real progger’s forays into ambient electronica. Independently, albeit briefly, the 70s veterans and their 90s followers inhabited the same musical space of texture and repetition. Indeed, I first heard Moonloop on the ambient radio show The Digital Dream, which is where I also heard Banco De Gaia and Fripp playing with the Future Sound of London.

But Porcupine Tree continued into a rock direction, releasing several excellent albums. Eventually even Robert Fripp played on their albums, as did Adrian Belew and even XTC’s Dave Gregory. Porcupine Tree was no longer a hoax, but the progressive rock band after all.

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