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  • Writer's pictureMario

The Lobby | PORCUPINE TREE - GLASS ARM SHATTERING (2005)



This is a song I’ve been compelled to write about as of 30 minutes ago.


I was writing about the new Space Camp album one day, and the album ended up quite middling. I realized I didn’t want to bore myself out of my mind by covering three inconsequential albums in a row, so I figured I needed a detour; here we are. How come the most miraculously arresting song to have been concocted from this ensemble teeters more on purgatory-bound space-rock than any prog epic they’ve dared devise?


Departed from the concept of its album entirely, how the hell does Glass Arm Shattering manage to be one of the most marvelous album closers of the mid-2000s, if not the entire decade? Shit, it shouldn’t even be hard to answer, but given how overshadowed it has been by the other songs off of Deadwing, it should also be clear as day. Through six minutes instead of the hour that the album occupies, it employs the greatest coming-to-terms regarding death that any prog-rock band of the 21st century has currently put to record. It’s paradoxically full of life, pure brilliance emanating like a cosmic sheen and ray, the metaphysical dance known as musical ebb and flow. It’s all so surgically touching, the precision is not focused towards technical hootenannies, rather focused on the immortal vice on emotion that music has proficiently gripped ever since the Big fucking Bang.


The sweet, sweet, sweet potent allure of that guitar is matched only by the post-everything of Talk Talk and all the tender Floyd-fueled psyche endeavours. It’s all your favourite memories and harshest regrets brought shimmer and glimmer with the same melancholy lighting system. The song may as well be the death of the idea of there being a better Porcupine Tree album closer as well. All it takes is this song and a play button to never want to be yourself again. Rather, to become a cryptid of celestial proportions that plays its every breath within the boiling of stars, the lensing of singularities, the fingertips of every deity of every world religion. It’s the shine all, be all. Shoeshine, sunshine, give ol’ dead fella in the sky a handshake shine. Sure, this band knew how to play well, but occasionally there’s those rare cuts where they very much knew how to feel well, and treat their instruments like guides to a theorized eleventh sense, one courtesy of every distant light in our silly sanctuary sky.


Even if the drums sound a bit more blunt and conventional in comparison to the innumerable gravity of the rest of this remarkable equation, it has the tempo to keep up with the punches. And despite how completely arresting the guitar work is, it would be nothing without the bass to counteract as its invisible hand, the dark energy and matter to its universe. The vocal work is sparse, no different to a David Kauffman recitation in sheer space than the nothingness between Mars and our moon. But where there isn’t vocal work between those spaces, nothing but rocket fuel and the quasar-bright blood of life itself courses in slow motion past the listener’s ear and to its home in many metaphorical clouds.


And the tenderness of what little is being said counteracts any complaints even more so than the fact that the sheer beauty of the instrumentation makes up for whatever excuse there is to make a flaw out of this:


“Feeling all your touching

Feeling all your love”


All it takes are just well-placed words in a song that caresses the concept of space and time, to completely outmatch any wordy dribbles and quips that take up the space of other records. It’s like picking the one right tool to get what needs to be done. When it all blossoms into a vocal group, nothing is lost. No momentum is sacrificed, no emotional potency, nothing. But you wanna know what seals the deal? You wanna know how they bring it all home? The fucking keyboard and piano work. Holy eyes-in-a-jar shit.


Those fuckers are like the ambassadors to heaven itself, an airlift dedicating itself to renourishing the soul. There is no jigsaw puzzle of words competent enough to tackle the pure delicately psychic spectacle of these cosmic synths. They’re not the flavour you’d find in an early Klaus Schulze (although it’s knack on overwhelming the experience can make it seem deceptively close), rather it’s the tasteful incarnation of Richard Wright’s own efforts that made ambience in rock especially worth a damn to note of to begin with. There is no wrath here to incur, there is no dissonance or noisiness to add indefinite edge akin to a posturing guillotine available here. It is all the mercy in the world reflected off an ice sheet.


And the taste of the rest? The most fleeting bittersweet. It just melts in the tongue, all of that nonsense. When we’re eventually lifted from that nebula of an experience, we’re left with a piano, the drums, the bass, and a dying electronica. The piano says all it needs to say, it expresses only the syllables that make sense to vocalize within this song’s own decaying circumstance. A closing recitation and lone guitar occupy the rest of this articulation as sorrowful record fuzz radiates the ghost of this song into a distant memory, a message from billions of lightyears away, attained and registered by us unfathomably long after it has ceased to exist. Here it is, here it went. It’s just so god damn simple, and yet its weight is incalculable. Enjoyed it?


The one song I’d argue comes close is the opener and title piece, Deadwing. And even then, that’s more of a scene-setter, the establisher of stakes, of contemplations, of all the reflections and plot lines of mythology and memory we’ll be trailing and attempting to collect the remnants of as the album waddles along towards the finale I seem so fucking fond of. That opening track says, “I’ve been having to go through this shit for a while, and it’s nothing new. But since you decided to hunker down to the seat next to me to hear my own reverberations of my thoughts and mysteries and dying regrets and wishes, I may as well get you up to speed on what went on, and what we both know is to come”. The final track says “...”, but not quite.


If you wait until night comes as its corpse lays peacefully next to you (provided that you had a friend cut out all the power within the region) and look up into the dotted and decorated night sky, a universe-burdened light will reveal itself to the world. On top of that, if you dare squint hard enough into that light, the eyes of our patient will surface. It is clad in all possible iris colours present through the universe, and through our comprehension. From black to blue, from crimson to chartreuse. Even rainbows and many infinite repetitions and colour cycles. This eye is in every species, too. The bulbous arrangement of chameleon (complete with its iconic aperture), the square of the sheep, the ravine of the caiman. If you dare squint even harder, you’ll find what’s beyond the eye: everywhere. Did you just peep into that patient’s own everythings, or did you catch yourself a glance of a being that occupies much more than just one body? A being that paints its conscience on every molecule, every blade of green or grey grass, every eyelash, every mountain of marrow or marble, every organism. Even dildoes. Can you believe that?


This was all documented in 2005 when Porcupine Tree decided to go a little bit slow. You know, I’ve noticed all of these really long live songs dominating the discussions for the greatest things ever recorded. Fishmans has the most popular example, then we’ve got Jim O’Rourke with that Fast Car cover he did, then we’ve got Pink Floyd’s Pompeii concert when they did Echoes (which earned itself such an accolade in the studio version anyway), and that Boris & Merzbow collaboration too. Shit, even this year, Parannoul has won everyone over with that After the Night album. I bring this up because I’ve been having this question in my head for a week now: what if Porcupine Tree’s Glass Arm Shattering had a 40-minute long live version where we witnessed our own resignation and peace with death and inconsequence to the universe played out in the band’s finest, most celestial hour? Perhaps a gamma ray would rain down to our blue marble and render us all dust, I don’t know.


Point is, this song is beautiful. It’s one of the greatest end credits of the 21st century. At night, it’ll take you to sleep having a game of Chess with an affable Grim Reaper, and a slow dance with a creature composed entirely of light. At day, it’ll make you read the last part and make you wonder what the fuck this guy is talking about. This song deserves a reputation as one of the most beautiful Porcupine Tree cuts, if not the most beautiful. Which one comes close? Maybe the Arriving Somewhere version of Buying New Soul, which is more of a death wish than a death acceptance.


It’s malleable. It’s the recollection of yourself, your recuperation after something knocks you on the cold floor and fucks you up. It’s the remorseful gaze of the Sun down onto your insignificant yet mountainous and invaluable self. It’s the ancient stares of all the stars and galaxies in the ever-escaping skies, it is every deep breath that is taken. It is the recitation of whatever lullaby helped you will away into slumber. It is, a little more conceptually, the elysian tint within the last word you speak and the last memory you ever recall. It’s the slow-motion experience of watching a titanic object shatter into mere remnants. It’s not one of the greatest songs in the history of ever, but it is absolutely one of the most profound experiences I’ve had the fortune of sharing from a song hailing from the 2000s. Anyways…


This writing about one song is somehow longer than some of the writings of albums I’ve talked about. I can attribute that to the fact that I’ve had around 6 months to get acquainted with this fuckin’ rascal, meanwhile with albums, I tend to give much less longer with listens that can be counted with one hand. I am unsure if I’ll ever write about the full album, and that is because of the truth that I have more to speak about this song than any other singular joint within this band’s career. It’s comparing many little shacks to the Angkor Wat. I also realized that the last thing I want to do is just make reviews of mediocre albums consecutively. I need to spill out feelings that aren’t just indifference and disappointment.


Weird thing is, this isn’t even the crowning achievement of 2005 “prog”. Given mortality itself closing in quicker and quicker than we can think or reflect, and especially quicker than these words can be registered, and even more so that the many clouds and gods share a simple gaze towards the listener whilst comfortable in the realm in which we all get acquainted with before long, heaven’s just a scab away.


- M.

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