Untitled (Complete IEM), June 2010
“I think by the time I’d done I.E.M. I realised there were a whole lot of other people who were doing it a whole lot better, because I didn’t have the time or the inclination to really commit myself fully to it. […] But I suppose I.E.M., because it was all done in the spirit of fun, was never going to be anything particularly substantial to me.” –Steven Wilson
“Yeah, it had some nice moments.”
We have arrived at yet another ending. Apart from a pair of compilations and box sets released in 2005 and 2010, this will be the last original IEM record. As this album and Arcadia Son were recorded at the same time and form a sort of diptych, it’s probably worth comparing the two side-by-side.
Arcadia Son is the more diverse record, building as it does on Escalator to Christmas’ mishmash of krautrock, pure psychedelia, and spoken-word samples. As such, its main strength is its diversity and willingness to careen abruptly from one idea to another and to experiment with all sorts of different genres, sounds, moods, and textures. Have Come For Your Children, meanwhile, sticks mostly to doing one thing. Every piece on this album, with the possible exception of the untitled hammered dulcimer/mellotron choir piece at the end, is much more interested in a very particular gloomy, rhythmic atmosphere and stretching it out and abstracting it as much as possible…to the point where it’s practically of a piece with what Bass Communion is doing. In fact, Have Come For Your Children goes a long way toward explaining why Bass Communion would become Wilson’s primary weird/experimental musical outlet after this. Even though it doesn’t sound like Bass Communion at all, as there’s still percussion and a sense of rhythm, that project still represents a natural and attractive endpoint for the sort of thing IEM is doing on this record.
In that respect, then, Have Come For Your Children is honestly a huge disappointment. The sense of infinite possibility that Arcadia Son represented has been closed off, the opportunities for Wilson to go in new and bizarre directions have not been taken, and instead we get something that sounds more or less like what he’s already been doing. There’s no uniqueness to Have Come For Your Children the way there was with Arcadia Son or An Escalator to Christmas, and as such there’s also no corresponding sense of fun and wonder. This, more than anything else, is a funeral dirge.
Some of this is inherent in endings as a concept. Part of the reason endings are so tough to do in more narrative-based mediums is you are foreclosing on that wealth of possibilities that the story could have gone. It’s why many of the best story endings still have a sense of ambiguity about them. Bands don’t have that luxury, not only because it’s not (necessarily) a narrative-based medium but also because most albums aren’t meant to be The Last Ones. They just record an album, and go on hiatus, and sometimes that hiatus becomes permanent. Oops. To the extent this affects IEM, which has already established itself as a fractal clusterfuck of a project, the obvious way to wrap this thing up would be to disintegrate completely, to be such a jarring, abrasive goulash of styles and genres that it’s practically unlistenable. This didn’t happen.
What we do have is well-made, of course. This was culled from some improvisations that were recorded around the same time as Arcadia Son, the sort of extended jam session that produces things like Moonloop and Metanoia. All pieces are untitled. The first one is thirty-five minutes long, and is measured and tightly structured, almost ritualistic, ebbing and flowing hypnotically like the tides. Untitled 2 continues in a similar vein, providing the raw material for much of the rest of the album, with each successive piece piling on more and more jazz and noise elements until we get Untitled 5, a glorious, cacophonic sensory barrage unlike anything Wilson had ever made up to that point. This is what the whole rest of the album should have sounded like.
For as much as Untitled 5 is the best thing on the album, it also demonstrates the limits of Moonloop-esque improvisations as a source of good Steven Wilson music. Moonloop itself was a masterpiece. Metanoia and Have Come For Your Children feel like retreads. This is troubling, because a return to the Moonloop well suggests that he took IEM as far as he felt it could have gone in the Escalator/Arcadia mode, as if he didn’t have any further interest in exploring the outer reaches of krautrock or harsh noise or proto-vaporwave or whatever other oddball out-of-character idea popped into his head this week.
What makes it even worse is there’s no aspect of IEM that continues after the project’s demise. Most other concluded Steven Wilson projects contain the seeds of the future within them. IEM itself is the product of the experiments Teen Wilson did as Altamont. Karma, easily Wilson’s worst band, recorded really early versions of Small Fish and Nine Cats. Porcupine Tree transitions shockingly well into Wilson’s solo career. When No-Man went on a decade-long hiatus, it found a spiritual successor in Tim Bowness’ solo albums. In addition, when Wilson is working on multiple projects simultaneously, the results tend to bleed into each other. His work producing Opeth informs every Porcupine Tree record from In Absentia onward. Grace for Drowning forms a loose trilogy with Heritage and Storm Corrosion. A good way of figuring out what a new Steven Wilson record will sound like is seeing what albums he’s been remixing lately. Just about everything Wilson records has some sort of connection with something else.
IEM, meanwhile, just stops. There’s no legacy for it to carry on, nothing within it that informed anything Wilson did after this. With this album, everything IEM could have become was reduced to the sort of thing Bass Communion was already doing anyway. All we have after this are a few compilations, and that’s it. Have Come For Your Children doesn’t just feel like a foreclosing of IEM’s possibilities, it feels like a foreclosing of an entire chunk of Steven Wilson’s personality. Whether he realizes it or not, he needs something like IEM to play around with. I miss it tremendously.
- Arcadia Son
- Have Come For Your Children