Steven Wilson once said that progressive rock is unique in its capacity to produce songs that are neither sad nor happy. If that’s true, these No-Man works fall into a different progressive realm.
Together We’re Stranger and Schoolyard Ghosts (both 7⁄10) are desperately sad – beautiful doses of ambient, proto trip-hop tragedy. Songs like The Break-Up For Real, on the former, will firmly shove the depressed over the edge; as Tim Bowness sings on the latter’s Song Of The Surf, ‘all you wanna do is cry’.
More significantly, however, the combination of atmospheric delicacy and experimental daring on each record marks an understatedly important stage in the musical evolution of these nu-prog pioneers. In contrast with the smooth, seamlessly composed TWS, Schoolyard Ghosts was produced over a longer, more fragmented period – initially Wilson aimed for less involvement, but ended up with a clear presence on the finished product.
A second CD of demos and alternative versions reflects the myriad ideas and test runs behind this quietly adventurous record. The opening passage of Pigeon Drummer could be the soundtrack of some whimsically creepy Tim Burton film, before it bursts out into heavy fuzz. Following a similarly filmic train, Truenorth unites keys, beats, ghostly whistles and strings in a foreboding unit.
Not foremost triumphs of either artist, but a touching, intelligent chapter for both./o:p