Porcupine Tree - Up The Downstair
Progressive/Psychedelic Rock
10 songs (48:01)
Release year: 1993
Porcupine Tree
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

Moving swiftly on from his tongue-in-cheek early output, Up The Downstair revealed a Steve Wilson who was every serious indeed about his music. Where On The Sunday Of Life was a collection of experiments which succeeded despite themselves, this is an album, a collection of songs that build off each others’ strengths and work well as a whole. Wilson seems determined to bring prog into the 90s, building off the work of the likes of Ozzric Tentacles by incorporating subtle electronic , synth loops and dance music patterns behind the post-Floyd exterior of gentle vocals and guitar antics. This is very much a dark, dreamy experience, the experimental nature and songcraft of prog mixed with the atmosphere of psychedelia – quite a triumph for Wilson, and quite a gem in the early Porcupine Tree discography.

The album leads you into its little world well with intro What You Are Listening To, opening synths setting a chilling tone before a sampled voice tells you that ‘what you’re listening to are musicians performing psychedelic music, under the influence of a mind-altering chemical’ – and Synthesia bursts in, Wilson’s instantly recognisable voice riding a deceptively cheerful complex backing. Although the 2005 remaster of this album (which I’m reviewing here) has re-recorded drums, the original’s programmed percussion sounds nearly as good, if obviously lacking that added dimensional pleasure of Gavin Harrison’s skills. The quirky, stabbing guitar melodies are instantly lovely, wrapping themselves around your ears and forming a loud cushion for the other instruments to subtly work their magic. Always Never, the following track, does even better, starting with soft acoustic whispers before launching into the sort of widescreen progarama that fans of the band’s later output will easily recognise, here given a quirkiness with some of the guitar experiments that the enquiring Wilson throws in.

His songwriting here may not be as smooth as it would become, but it’s already damn impressive, filling your ears with exactly what they want to hear, exactly when they want it. Whether they always know what they want, however, is another question – the odd female vocals and almost Gregorian-chanting keyboards that open the ten-minute title track are very strange at first, but by the time it launches into 90s-esque Rush guitar rhythmic groove you’ll be in love, and the resulting burst of psychedelic splendour is impossible to resist. There’s more rocking groove on instrumental Not Beautiful Anymore and blissful post-Floyd melody on Small Fish, but it’s the eleven-minute Burning Sky where the album again hits the highest heights, again instrumental but this time taking the form of another build-up to cinematic proggy wonder. The closing Fadeaway, meanwhile, has a sad, solemn beauty to it that stays with you after the album is finished, making it a wonderful closing track. More than worth hearing for fans, especially since the reissue of this album comes with the 1994 Staircase Infinities EP which, although not as good, is a lovely slice of psychedelia and has more than enough gems to make it worthwhile.

Killing Songs :
Synthesia, Always Never, Up The Downstair, Small Fish, Fadeaway
Goat quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Porcupine Tree that we have reviewed:
Porcupine Tree - On The Sunday Of Life reviewed by Goat and quoted 79 / 100
Porcupine Tree - The Incident reviewed by Goat and quoted 79 / 100
Porcupine Tree - Deadwing reviewed by Boris and quoted 89 / 100
Porcupine Tree - Stupid Dream reviewed by Khelek and quoted 94 / 100
Porcupine Tree - Lightbulb Sun reviewed by Khelek and quoted 91 / 100
To see all 9 reviews click here
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