The new Porcupine Tree album Fear of a Blank Planet is based on a more focused concept than 2005’s Deadwing, but is no less adventurous a musical journey. Steven Wilson continues to wear many hats on this album–guitars, vocals, piano, writing, and engineering–and along with the rest of the band has managed to produce what I think is among the top 10 best-sounding albums of the decade (so far). The songs are still growing on me after about six full listens, but I’m confident that if you like one of PT’s last two albums or are a fan of rock concept albums you’ll find this one interesting.

The album proves that dynamic range isn’t dead; it was saved from the mastering butchery that plagues most mainstream rock releases I’ve heard in the last 10-15 years. As a result, the quieter parts of the album are actually quiet in contrast to the loud parts, which do get loud! A particularly noticable example of this to me is Gavin Harrison’s drumming at the beginning of track 3, “Anesthetize”; it sounds lively and great. The music goes from melodic to metallic and back with ease.

The engineering on this album is the best I’ve heard from PT to date. SW already had a decent track record in this area, especially considering the quality of the two Blackfield albums and the DVD-A versions of In Absentia and Deadwing. His reputation is cemented with this release.

Although meant to be listened to as a whole in sequence, I currently favor tracks 2 and 4, “My Ashes” and “Sentimental”, as well as first third of “Anesthetize”, which features the Alex Lifeson solo that I blogged about before. I’m definitely more interested in the music than the lyrics at this point. I miss the “layered lyric” moments such as the ones in “Gravity Eyelids”, “Drown With Me”, and “Mellotron Scratch”, some of my favorite PT tunes. However, that doesn’t detract from this album’s quality.

Fear of a Blank Planet hits store shelves in the US tomorrow. Highly recommended!