Though he initially came to wider attention (at least in the U. K.) with No-Man, his long-running collaboration with Tim Bowness, throughout the 1990s singer/guitarist Steven Wilson gained as much of a reputation for Porcupine Tree. Embracing and exploring prog rock inspirations while always keeping an ear out for newer musical connections, thus sidestepping the pointless revivalism of many of the band’s peers, Porcupine Tree has created some noteworthy albums and songs over the years, continuing full strength into the new millennium.
The group itself was just Wilson at the start; born in London in 1967, he was too young to participate in the first full flush of psychedelic and experimental rock music, but swiftly made up for lost time, turning out to be a talented musical prodigy. Having learned guitar and keyboards at a young age, he contributed to work by underground prog outfits of the early ’80s such as Altamont and Karma while continuing his own musical growth and exploration. 1987 saw the founding of both No-Man and Porcupine Tree, the latter actually starting as a joke between Wilson and a friend about a legendary lost ’70s group. Elaborate discographies and other material were created à la Spinal Tap, while Wilson himself created a slew of music meant to be the band’s lost recordings. In a humorous twist of fate, two tapes of this material ended up in the hands of other folks interested in hearing more from Wilson, who ended up collating the best tracks for Porcupine Tree’s real debut album on Delerium Records, On the Sunday of Life, in 1992. Those songs having been something of a nostalgia exercise, Wilson aimed for a more contemporary approach on his follow-up release – the extended single “Voyage 34,” with a clear debt to ambient techno jokesters the Orb.
Up the Downstair, Porcupine Tree’s next full album, found Wilson coming fully into his own, creating a majestic, sweeping album
that took the prog inspirations of the past fully into a realm of mysterious hush and beauty as much as full-on rock charge. Two collaborators on other projects, bassist Colin Edwin and keyboardist Richard Barbieri, the latter one of the core members of early-’80s pop-art geniuses Japan, guested on the album. Later that year, the two formally joined Porcupine Tree, along with drummer Chris Maitland, establishing a four-piece lineup.
The first release by the new version of the group, The Sky Moves Sideways, was actually something of a transitional affair, a number of the songs still being Wilson solo compositions and performances. A slew of fine songs stood out regardless, notably “Moonloop,” but the bandmembers themselves considered the quartet’s true debut to be 1996’s Signify, another stunning step forward of the Porcupine Tree sound with new highlights everywhere, including the epic blast of the title track itself. A nice nod to the past came that year with the vinyl-only Spiral Circus album, featuring selections from the first three performances of the four-piece lineup in 1993, while 1997’s Coma Divine featured more recent live recordings from the Rome stop on the Signify tour. By this time, Porcupine Tree’s reputation had spread throughout Europe and elsewhere, including an increasing cult following in America.
A friendly parting from Delerium led Porcupine Tree to Snapper/K-Scope, which released 1999’s Stupid Dream, notable for its stronger song focus and slightly more accessible feel all around. The band’s reputation and fan base continued to grow, with another album, Lightbulb Sun, taking its bow in 2000.