Snapper Records, 2008
REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/25/2010
No-Man, a collaboration between Tim Bowness and Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, has been operating largely under the radar, producing some stunning and unique music for over fifteen years. Their songs resonate with themes of loss, isolation, and despair, both lyrically and musically. Schoolyard Ghosts flows out of the speakers tentatively and darkly, creeping up on you like a fog bank.
On this, their eighth release (not counting compilations), the songs might send you out looking for a sunny spot to sit in – or maybe some ice cream. Blending brooding, emo lyrics with Wilson’s multi-layered soundscapes, the two men of No-Man paint a landscape of gray on gray. Moody would be an understatement. Bowness’ voice is a fragile, sighing thing, plaintive and often colored in bleak shades of sadness. Even on the, um... happier tracks, like the gentle love song “All The Beautiful Songs You Should Know,” he sounds on the verge of tears. The synergy of his vocal style with Wilson’s gift for dense, evocative arrangements is near perfect.
Let’s not, however, mistake moody for boring. The music is subtle, with strong ambient and trance elements, but it never lapses into background music. Wilson’s typically complex production and his excellent performances playing almost all the instruments is a big plus. The toy piano in “Truenorth” seems to seep up out of the speaker through gauzy layers of textured keys and gentle drones. The rich baritone notes of the sleepy fuzz guitar in “Song Of The Surf” echoes some of Angelo Badalamenti’s creepiest work.
As dark and moody as it is, there’s still vibrancy to these songs. Their compositions fall into somber places that many similar bands would hesitate to go, but one can easily follow the songs and get lost in their ghost-like company. No-Man embraces the angst, the melancholy, and the weary ennui of Bowness’ lyrics and hitches it to Wilson’s languorous but complex musical arrangements, creating an engaging marriage that’s compelling and magnetic.