no-man – love you to bits album review

4 10 2019

no-man have released love you to bits, the duo’s first studio album for eleven years. The album is made up of two connected five-part pieces (love you to bits and love you to pieces).

The album marks a return to the more beat-driven electronica of Loveblows & Lovecries – A Confession and parts of Flowermouth, but with a tempo consistency missing from previous albums.

On first hearing the finished album, I was surprised by the sense of urgency, and how some of the performances are quite visceral. I heard echoes of Trent Reznor / nine inch nails and at times, Outside era David Bowie, before the songs took on a real identity of their own.

The album should not be surprising to long-time fans of no-man – my CD single of Only Baby sits close to Donna Summers Once Upon A Time double-album in my CD rack, occasionally throwing coquettish glances in its direction. So whilst love you to bits feels influenced by the urgent sequenced riffs of the “father of Disco” Giorgio Moroder, Bowness and Wilson have developed so much as writers and musicians since the early days, and this is clearly evident as there is so much more to this album than high-energy electronics.

There are two remarkable performances that leap out of the speakers from guest players. On love you to bits guitarist David Kollar delivers a white-hot manic solo that is one of the highlights of the album, and on love you to pieces Steven Wilson band member Adam Holzman serves up a fusion electric piano solo that is dripping with passion (and a fair amount of reverb).

Other guests include Ash Soan (The Producers / Trevor Horn / Downes Braide Association), who adds powerful live drums on top of the drum machines, giving a real push to sections of the album, plus some damn funky synth basslines from Norwich’s finest low notes rumbler (and half of Burning Shed) Pete Morgan, plus a surprising but emotive appearance from The Dave Desmond Brass Quintet (Big Big Train).

The first track (or suite), love you to bits, is driven by deep synth lines and Bowness’s sardonic lyrics surveying the shattered wreck of a relationship. As the live drums kick in, Wilson’s guitar processing harks back to the sound of early no-man, and at times the music draws from the mood of Only Baby and Bleed.

love you to bits contains one of no-man’s finest choruses, and even with the aforementioned I Feel Love / Moroder / Belotte influences, the album feels very current, and will surely appeal to fans of most forms of electronic / electronic dance music.

“I love you, like I don’t love you at all”

Just before the 6 minute mark, one of my favourite moments kicks in. Featuring a short guitar and bass interplay that is pure Platinum era Mike Oldfield, the section breaks down to an Underworld / Born Slippy motif that leads to a vocal and instrumental refrain that sums up the beauty of no-man, with a subtle nod to lighthouse (my favourite no-man song). The music then picks up, with wild Bowness vocals and beautiful lead guitar lines from the boy Wilson. I will let you discover the unexpected ending to love you to bits yourself, which sees out the first five part piece.

love you to pieces is a darker, more twisted cousin of the first half of the album.

“our sticky love just left me weak”

Opening with a dub-like, slow it all down continuation of the theme, the song takes a detour and again draws on the DNA of no-man’s past.

“There’s no need to look for answers
To the questions never asked
There’s no need to make a shelter
from your versions of our past”

A heavily vocodered, processed vocal breakdown leads to the aforementioned Adam Holzman solo section and I’m reminded a little of some of the instrumentation of Bird Shadows, Wolf & Moon, an earlier mostly vocal-less piece credited to no-man on the Drop 6 compilation.

As the synths sparkle like diamonds on the mid-section, and as the pace drops, I love the production touches on Tim’s vocals – reminding me of the tape decay of The Disintegration Loops and The Caretaker. It’s the most moving part of the whole album, and is like having pure, unadulterated no-man shot through your veins. I have no doubt that long-time no-man fans will be deeply moved by the mid to end section of love you to pieces.

The decay and melancholy of the end section reminds me a little of the darker parts of 10cc and Godley & Creme, feeling like a Mogadon infused I’m Not In Love, as the melody is scraped away to reveal the bare bones of the piece.

love you to bits is a world away from the most recent no-man albums, but even if you are not usually a fan of the more electronic side of the band, I think there is plenty here to savour. The album touches on the band’s earlier sound palette, but is so unlike anything else in no-man’s catalogue.

Although often jokingly teased as the band’s “disco epic” when mentioned in interviews, love you to bits is in fact one of the most progressive albums released under the no-man name. Not as a genre, but progressive as evidence of no-man changing, evolving and progressing onto something new.

I hope the album is heard outside of the Bowness / Wilson audience, as it will surely appeal to anyone with a love of electronic music. Prepare to be surprised and you will not be disappointed.

Buy the album

Buy love you to bits (CD / Vinyl / packages) from Burning Shed

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Stream the album (and then buy it!)

love you to bits details

love you to bits (Bits 1-5) (17.03)
love you to pieces (Pieces 1-5) (18.54)

Tim Bowness – Vocals
Steven Wilson – Instruments

Ash Soan – Drums
The Dave Desmond Brass Quintet – Brass on love you to bits
Adam Holzman – Electric Piano solo on love you to pieces
David Kollar – Electric Guitar solo on love you to bits
Pete Morgan – Synth bass on love you to bits

produced and written by no-man
mixed by Bruno Ellingham
mastered by Matt Colton





Tim Bowness – Flowers At The Scene

13 02 2019

Tim Bowness’ fifth solo album Flowers At The Scene is released on InsideOutMusic/Sony on the 1st March 2019. Described as being “produced by no-man and Brian Hulse”, there is definitely the spirit of no-man in the DNA of some of the songs, whilst there is also a feeling of renewal with the wide-ranging guests and new musicians, who have breathed new life into this run of solo albums.

Flowers At The Scene has its own very clear musical identity and a cohesive sound, but still with plenty of variety in tones and mood. Album opener I Go Deeper features powerful (treated) drums from Bowness newbie Tom Atherton, and a great Mick Karn-like bassline from Colin Edwin. The edgy kitchen-sink drama lyrics perfectly suit the musical ebb and flow of the track.

“Wild, desperate kisses, fire escapes, near misses.”

The Train That Pulled Away feels somewhat like a distant relation of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting, before exploding into a more powerful outro section (drummer Tom Atherton is a real find by the way).

Rainmark is the first track that really channels the spirit of no-man, dressed to impress, wearing a lovely Flowermouth outfit. One of several tracks to feature the trumpet playing of Ian Dixon and also home to a fine guitar solo from Jim Matheos (Fates Warning / OSI / contributor to Memories of Machines).

Not Married Anymore is the first song to feature Dylan Howe, and probably the albums saddest track. Which of course, makes it one of my favourites. Building on the recent Plenty album (and featuring Brian Hulse and David K Jones from the band), Not Married Anymore is simple, uncluttered but devastatingly melancholic. An early album highlight.

The title track dials in further sadness and regret, over a mesmerising drum and double bass pattern (the bass reminds me of Danny Thompson). A tale of visible signs of a painful loss (we have all seen wilting flowers at the scene of someones passing), Flowers At The Scene is achingly beautiful.

It’s The World is a musical oddity on the album. Metal guitar (along with Comsat Angel-like harmonics) from Jim Matheos, plus guitar and backing vocals from Peter Hammill and a synth coda from Steven Wilson, leads to the most startling / jarring piece on the album. It is uneasy listening.

Things calm down a little with Borderline, which features a vocal (and flute plus melodica) appearance from Big Big Train’s David Longdon. The organ and interplay between the flute and trumpet lift this song to a higher plane, and over the past few months this song has become one of my favourites from the album.

“Friends keeping tabs – You just say that you’re fine,
They’re watching you slip, across the fragile borderline.”

Ghostlike features instrumentation and a mix of styles that on paper simply should not work. A post-punk, seemingly (Banshees) Budgie inspired drum pattern underpins a Drive / LA synth soundtrack, topped off with some wonderful guitar tones. The haunting mood is deepened by the voyeuristic lyrics, heavily treated lead and backing vocal lines and frenzied guitar. If you were a fan of Thomas Dolby’s The Flat Earth album from the mid 80s (particularly Screen Kiss), you will love Ghostlike.

The War On Me strips the arrangement back to the electronic textures, whilst channelling no-man’s My Revenge on Seattle and Heaven’s Break for good measure. The War On Me is my favourite Bowness vocal performance on the album. Like Tony Visconti with David Bowie, Steven Wilson knows how to add that extra sheen to the production of Tim’s vocals.

The most uplifting song on the album is Killing To Survive, with its inventive, constantly evolving vocal arrangements, and it’s Plenty on steriods musical palette.

The album ends on one of its strongest pieces, and what I consider to be a Bowness career highlight with What Lies Here. With Returning Jesus recalling treated electronics, What Lies Here features Andy Partridge (XTC) delivering an emotive guitar line and Kevin Godley (10CC / Godley & Creme) supplying a rare guest vocal. With both guests shimmering in and out of the mix, it is an inspired collaboration.

Godley’s vocals are sadly missing from the current musical landscape. I personally think that the first four Godley & Creme albums are some of the most interesting and influential releases of the late 70s, early 80s, and its great to hear his voice again. The abrupt end to What Lies Here catches me out every time.

“You, you’ll never make your way back home”

Flowers At The Scene is perfectly sequenced, and whilst it is not as obviously musically framed as Lost In The Ghost Light, the variety of moods and stylistic twists and turns makes this the most satisfying solo release to date from Tim. Lost In The Ghost Light also only really worked as a complete listening experience for me (which suited the theme), whereas a lot of the songs on Flowers At The Scene stand up in isolation.

Tracklisting
I Go Deeper (4.16)
The Train That Pulled Away (4.04)
Rainmark (4.15)
Not Married Anymore (3.31)
Flowers At The Scene (3.05)
It’s The World (3.04)
Borderline (3.46)
Ghostlike (5.09)
The War On Me (3.48)
Killing To Survive (4.00)
What Lies Here (4.01)

produced by no-man and Brian Hulse
mixed by Steven Wilson, mastered by Steve Kitch
no-man is Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson

Flowers At The Scene is available as a CD in deluxe digipak, 180g black vinyl in gatefold cover with insert and CD, and a Burning Shed only 180g red vinyl edition in gatefold cover with insert and CD. All pre-orders from Burning Shed come with an exclusive signed greeting card and an mp3 EP of alternate versions.

Pre-order (CD / vinyl) from Burning Shed
Pre-order the CD from Amazon
Pre-order the vinyl from Amazon





Plenty – It Could Be Home

14 04 2018

It Could Be HomePlenty was Tim Bowness’s immediate pre-no-man band. In 2016 and 2017, Bowness and fellow founder members Brian Hulse and David K Jones re-recorded Plenty’s catalogue of 1980s songs, revising some of them and even adding a newly written song (The Good Man). The end result is the debut album, It Could Be Home released on 27 April 2018 on Karisma Records.

Plenty are joined on the album by no-man live band members Michael Bearpark and Steve Bingham, Tim’s Bowness / Chilvers collaborator Peter Chilvers and Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow / Opium Cartel).

Whilst the album is understandably shot through with a real 80s sensibility, with touches of The Blue Nile, David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel, Thomas Dolby, and David Bowie lingering in the sounds and arrangements, It Could Be Home deserves to be listened to as more than just a work of pure nostalgia.

The album opens with a synth heavy, lightly delivered Jagger / Richards As Tears Go By, that is more Stranger Things than Lost in the Ghost Light. Hide delivers an Associates vibe to the music, and signals an album that is much more upbeat than recent Bowness releases. I think that the recent Bowness solo album’s have delivered some of his finest work, with material that is often comparable to a lot of his work in no-man, but it is good to hear a different side with Plenty. Vive la différence.

By far my favourite track on the album, the melancholic Never Needing is the one track on It Could Be Home that would fit onto one of Tim’s recent albums. Fans of no-man’s early work will recognise the song – previously recorded by no-man as Life is Elsewhere, and nowadays mostly existing on dusty old bootlegs or sitting as an (original “dodgy”) Napster-era, hiss-filled mp3 file on people’s hard-drives.

The Plenty version is a revelation. Sparse, brooding and slow-building, with an aching synth line and some of Tim’s most personal and direct lyrics and vocals. This is one of those occasions where I can confidently say that it is worth buying the album just for this song.

“You live in your world and I die in mine.
But I’m hopeful life is elsewhere”

Broken Nights really lifts towards the middle section of the song, before a key 80s stalwart (synth marimba bells) usher in the rest of the song.

Foolish Waking is another of my favourites from the album. Beatless and with some wonderful guitar lines from Michael Bearpark, and feeling a little like the work of the only Tim Bowness/Samuel Smiles studio album, World of Bright Futures from way back in 1999.

plenty

Strange Gods is underpinned by a delicious Mick Karn like bass-line, has hints of Bowie in the verses and a chorus seemingly inspired by The Blue Nile. So how can you not like the song? The mix, carried out with obvious love and attention by Norwegian guitarist, composer and producer Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow / The Opium Cartel) is colourful and warm throughout the album, but especially on Strange Gods.

Every Stranger’s Voice features Peter Chilvers on piano and the forensically detailed lyrics are filled with memories of an intense but long dead relationship. A powerful Michael Bearpark solo lifts the song towards its conclusion.

Another uptempo track is Climb, which has a real post-punk meets The Associates taking a quick detour via The Comsat Angels (circa the Fiction album). What a marvellous melting pot.

The Good Man is a new song that emerged during the recording sessions, and lyrically is tied to the album’s key track, Never Needing. The music has a late 80s feel, and lyrics that signal regret at letting go and giving up the fight too soon. The Good Man and the album’s closing title track offers something very different from recent Bowness releases.

The fact that the recording sessions produced new material of this quality, along with out-takes (such as a wonderful version of Forest Almost Burning, that I hope is revisited) suggest that there is a future for Plenty beyond this album.

If you pre-order It Could Be Home by Plenty from Burning Shed, on CD, vinyl or exclusive limited edition blue vinyl, you will receive an exclusive postcard and a free download EP of four of the band’s 1980s demos. Please note – this exclusive offer is only available until 27-04-2018 and only From Burning Shed.

Order Plenty – It Could Be Home on CD from Amazon

Order Plenty – It Could Be Home on vinyl from Amazon

As Tears go by
Hide
Never Needing
Broken Nights
Foolish Waking
Strange Gods
Every Stranger’s Voice
Climb
The Good Man
It could be Home

Band website: www.weareplenty.com





no-man – Returning Jesus (2017 remaster / deluxe edition)

7 11 2017

returning_jesus 500Originally released in February 2001, Returning Jesus received highly positive reviews in Mojo, Uncut, Billboard, Classic Rock and other publications at the time of its release and has continued to be seen by both critics and fans as one of the best albums produced by the duo of Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson.

The November 2017 KScope reissue features a 2017 Steven Wilson remaster, and sleeve notes from Tim Bowness.

Only Rain is one of no-man’s most minimalist pieces. A seemingly Arvo Part inspired string intro slowly builds and comes to life with a beautiful Ian Carr trumpet refrain. The first noticeable upgrade with this 2017 remaster is the double bass from Colin Edwin, you can really feel the strings, as if you are in the room with the band. If you have seen no-man live on one of their rare live performances over the past few years, Only Rain is one of the highlights.

Returning Jesus was the beginning of a drift away from more electronic recordings of the bands previous albums. No Defence, along with album closer All That You Are, have a feel of classic 50s or early 60s standards. Smoky trumpet and slide guitar adorn No Defence, one of the most wry songs on the album.

“Love it all. No Disgrace.”

Close Your Eyes, rescued from the earlier song Desert Heart, and expanded from the Carolina Skeletons EP, builds into one of the albums highlights, with some fine Steve Jansen percussion and a memorable Wilson guitar solo. The arrangement, especially the end section, is stunning. Close Your Eyes was a highlight on the 2012 no-man tour. If anyone has a recording of the song from that tour, please get in touch!

no-man yellow

The next couple of tracks are two of no-mans finest ballads. Carolina Skeletons is one of the most underrated no-man songs. If it doesn’t melt your heart, you need to visit a doctor. The production on Caroline Skeletons is top notch. Processed sounds mix with cleaner instrumentation, topped by Tim’s vocals (Wilson certainly knows how to mix his partner in crime perfectly).

Outside the Machine builds from a delicious Steve Jansen groove, whilst piano and fretless bass underpin one of Bowness’s best vocals. Its croon-central! The subtle vocal processing and backing vocal arrangement is a masterclass of how to convey emotion in a simple, direct way. The electronics and textures of the end section remind me a little of the David Bowie Outside album.

“You’re all lit up like catherine wheels. You’re all lit up, but you’re not real.”

Outside the Machine is a beautiful track, as is the title track to the album. One of the most discordant, unconventional tracks the band have recorded, Returning Jesus is also one of the most moving. A temporary return to electronica, the gamelan loop is inspired and when the layered strings, bass and guitar lines sweep into the song, there is a real magical feeling. As Returning Jesus progresses, a heavenly synth sequence ushers in the pleading Bowness “I don’t want to stay a million miles away” line.

I remember reading an interview with New Order’s Bernard Sumner, who described waking up to Winter in July by Bomb The Bass, and thinking he had gone to heaven. I get the same feeling whenever I hear the Returning Jesus title track – it simply has 3 or 4 moments where the song sends me to another place.

noman greenAfter the albums only instrumental, Slow It All Down, we come to another album, and indeed career, highlight from no-man. Lighthouse is my favourite no-man song, but strangely, not this version!

The studio version is the nearest to progressive rock no-man have released and appears to be a lot of fans favourite track on the album. Jansen’s drumming is out of this world, but for me the definitive version is the Lighthouse (First Demo) that appears on the second disc of this re-issue. I admit that the drum machine is no match for the album versions live drums, but the demo version sums up everything I love about no-man. And from 3 minutes 56, a much expanded (from the later version) mostly instrumental section, with an angular guitar line duelling with slowly building piano arpeggios, is one of my favourite pieces of music from any band, in any era. Every time I hear it, it sends shivers.

Back to the main album, All That You Are with its shuffling drums and rock ‘n roll ballad feel, is a fine end to the album.

Second disc highlights

The second disc (on the CD version) has a fine selection of EP tracks, demos and alternate versions from the Returning Jesus era. Something Falls is a return to the mostly beatless Speak era sound. Sometimes the most simple, stripped back arrangements can be as effective as a full-on mix, and that is certainly the case here.

I love the production on Until Tomorrow – banjo to one side, vocals to the other, a trick used in a lot of 60s recordings. It helps you concentrate on the individual performances with enhanced clarity. Chelsea Cap is one of the finest long-lost no-man tracks, with a great drum track, some wonderful organ and a chorus to die for. It could have easily made it to the main album.

Song About The Heart is an early version of the theme that became Lighthouse. Of the two versions of Darkroom on the second disc, I prefer the more twisted, almost Wild Opera-like alternate version.

Like A Child is a further exploration of the Close Your Eyes percussion with a Bowness vocal sample from the end of the same song. Slow It All Down (Long Version) is an interesting, very different version – more electronic than its disc one counterpart.

Another highlight of the second disc is All That You Are (Demo), with a similar arrangement, but feeling less nostalgic due to the more forceful drum pattern and synth strings. Its interesting how much of the arrangement was already decided in this demo version.

This is by far the best version of Returning Jesus. The 2017 Steven Wilson remaster delivers the definitive version of this classic no-man album.

Deluxe CD

Amazon
Burning Shed

CD 1 – Returning Jesus (2001):

1. Only Rain (7:24)
2. No Defence (5:20)
3. Close Your Eyes (8:25)
4. Carolina Skeletons (5:08)
5. Outside The Machine (5:46)
6. Returning Jesus (5:19)
7. Slow It All Down (3:42)
8. Lighthouse (8:12)
9. All That You Are (4:44)

CD 2 – EP Tracks/Demos/Alternate Versions (1994-2003)

1. Something Falls (3.34)
2. Close Your Eyes – 1998 EP version (7.47)
3. Carolina Reprise (3.00)
4. Until Tomorrow – Hi-Fi (2.59)
5. Chelsea Cap (5.25)
6. Darkroom (3.52)
7. Until Tomorrow – Lo-Fi (3.15)
8. Song About The Heart (2.48)
9. Lighthouse – First Demo (10.27)
10. Darkroom – Alternate Version (5.35)
11. Like A Child (4.10)
12. Chelsea Cap – Alternate Version (6.50)
13. Lighthouse – Second Demo (8.58)
14. Slow It All Down – Long Version (5.13)
15. All That You Are – Demo (4.36)

Vinyl: double 180g LP

Amazon
Burning Shed

side 1
1. only rain (7.24)
2. no defence (5.20)
3. close your eyes (8.25)

side 2
1. carolina skeletons (5.08)
2. outside the machine (5.46)
3. returning jesus (5.19)

side 3
1. slow it all down (3.42)
2. lighthouse (8.12)
3. all that you are (4.44)

side 4 – ep tracks:
1. something falls (3.34)
2. chelsea cap (5.25)
3. until tomorrow – hi-fi (2.59)
4. darkroom (3.52)
5. carolina reprise (3.00)





no-man – Heaven Taste 12″

3 06 2016
heaven tasteHeaven Taste by no-man was originally a 21 minute instrumental from 1993, featuring Steven Wilson, Ben Coleman, Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Mick Karn.

This 2016 12″ vinyl release comes out on June 10th on Finnish underground dance label Sähkö, and is available to buy from Burning Shed.

The 2016 Steven Wilson edit of the original mix is obviously my favourite version on the 12″ – and I can’t wait to hear this on vinyl (this review is from digital copies of the two tracks).

If you don’t know Heaven Taste yet, it has a lot of the hallmarks of early no-man – plenty of breakdowns, soaring violin and guitar lines, but sadly no Bowness vocals as this is one of the bands instrumental pieces.

Heaven Taste is one of the rare studio tracks by no-man to feature Jansen, Barbieri and Karn (Japan / Raintree Crow) who toured with the band in the early 90’s. The track is powered by an impeccable groove that kicks into gear after the twinkling synth, violin and guitar intro, and its instantly clear that you are listening to Steve Jansen and Mick Karn, one of the late 80s / early 90s great rhythm sections.

Heaven Taste is built on repetition and repeated motifs but it would be too easy to label this music as trance, as there is a lot going on – too many layers, peaks and troughs for it to be so easily lumped into the one genre.

Just before the half-way mark we are treated to a short, wonderful piece of Mick Karn bass playing and then the percussion and keyboards ease the groove back in.

I love the space in early to mid-period no-man – take a listen to the bands work on the Speak album or Flowermouth and prepare to be amazed.

cgstrings

I take every opportunity to enthuse about the music of no-man, so I’m always going to prefer the original performance over a remix, but the 9 minutes long Jimi Tenor rearrangement sits well with me. The point of a remix is to give the listener a different taste from the original, or maybe to tease something out of a song in a style or using a technique that might be somewhat alien to the original artist.

This process might also lead to a new audience gaining exposure to music that they may be unfamiliar with, and I certainly think this is the case with this ‘rearrangement’ by Jimi Tenor. There is enough of the original musicians performances to be a recognisable version of Heaven Taste, but it is a definite updating and re-imagining of the song, and this new arrangement takes the song to different and unfamiliar places.

New instrumentation has been added to the original early 90s performances, and whilst there are two or three short sections where Mick Karn’s fretless bass is quite high in the mix, there is noticeably less Jansen, Barbieri and Karn in this Jimi Tenor version, so its a very different beast.

Some of the synths and certainly the style of the flute lines would not be what you would expect in a no-man song, so its interesting to hear another musicians fresh approach to the track. I hope this 2016 re-imaging of Heaven Taste leads to more people seeking out and enjoying the music of no-man. And if you are already a no-man fan, you will enjoy these new versions.

Buy Heaven Taste (12″ vinyl) from Burning Shed

Visit the no-man website to hear more no-man music





Steven Wilson – 4 ½

26 12 2015

SW_cover_4_1_2web4 ½, the new album from Steven Wilson, is released by KScope on January 22nd 2016. 4 ½ is like a super-sized, expanded EP, and acts as an interim release between 2015’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. and the next (as yet unrecorded) studio album.

4 ½ is available in multiple formats – as a single CD, digital download, vinyl and blu-ray (the blu-ray includes bonus tracks, instrumentals and the 2015 version of Lazarus).

Album opener My Book of Regrets will be familiar to fans who attended recent live dates, and first started to come together during the early Hand.Cannot.Erase. period.

The song has a myriad of twists and turns, with a nod to the past in the Time Flies referencing evolving guitar riff running throughout the track. A great bass-line drives the mid-section, and all of the musicians get a chance to really shine on My Book of Regrets, which is built from a mixture of live and studio performances.

I love that recording technology has progressed to the stage that live recordings can capture unique individual performances that can then be easily dropped into studio sessions.

I think its safe to say that 4 ½ will appeal to Porcupine Tree fans as well as those who love the material released under his own name. The album feels like Wilson is cleansing his musical palette before the next album, which is likely to be very different from his last few releases (he has recently hinted at a more electronic sound for the next release).

SW_4_1_2_Innerweb

Year of the Plague is the album’s first instrumental track, and early on became my favourite song on 4 ½. Free from the need to follow a conventional structure with lyrics and verse-chorus, the song is simple but direct and incredibly moving. At times it reminds me a little of the mood of some later period no-man songs. It’s no secret that my favourite Wilson project is his work as no-man with Tim Bowness.

Year of the Plague is from The Raven That Refused To Sing sessions, but its clear why it was not included on that album, which had a very 70s feel and it fits perfectly in the album sequencing for 4 ½. The beautiful violin melody drifts through the song, sitting on top of one of SW’s most addictive arpeggio guitar lines. The strings are not performed by real players, but are sampled, in this case from an EastWest sample library (the violins in the only EW sample library I own – Goliath – don’t sound as realistic as this).

Year of the Plague also works well as a companion piece to Nuclear Head of an Angel from 2004’s self-released Unreleased Electronic Music Vol.1.

Happiness III dates back as far as the writing for the Deadwing album, but would not have sounded out-of-place on Hand.Cannot.Erase. Boasting an unashamedly pop chorus (reminding me a little of later period The Who / solo Pete Townsend), this song will no doubt be a highlight of the upcoming tour.

Sunday Rain Sets In harks back to the sound of Insurgentes at the beginning, but then expands into a fine instrumental with great piano and percussive guitar lines. It evokes the sights and sounds of a wet, night-time city landscape.

Vermillioncore is the album’s final instrumental. A disturbing jazzy intro leads to a discordant Chapman Stick solo from Nick Beggs, and a heavy bass and guitar end section. I’m not sure what the significance of the song title is, but Vermillioncore is nothing like Vermillion Sands from Buggle’s Adventures in Modern Recording album.

Its worth pointing out that one of the highlights of 4 ½ is that we finally witness the return of SW guitar solos, which have taken the back-seat on his recent albums.

4 ½ is bookended by two long songs. The album closes with a new version of Don’t Hate Me, a take on the song originally recorded by Porcupine Tree on Stupid Dream. The 2015 solo version is slower than the version recorded by Porcupine Tree, with the drums less to the fore in the mix, and with a wider range of layered keyboards and guitars.

swweb

The original keyboards were solely analogue, whereas this version is augmented with organ on top of the electronics.

Wilson’s vocals have obviously matured since 1999, and they work really well alongside co-vocalist for this track, Ninet Tayeb (who you might have been lucky to see bringing the audience to their feet during a stunning Routine at the Albert Hall shows in November 2015). I love the subtle use of reverb on the verse vocals on this version of Don’t Hate Me.

Theo Travis returns to deliver another stunning sax solo that works so well alongside the haunting, smokey keyboard runs from Adam Holzman, who is becoming one of my favourite keyboard players.

Die-hard PT fans may prefer the studio take they have lived with for years, but for me, this is the definitive version. Don’t hate me.

Steven Wilson – 4 ½

My Book of Regrets (9.23)
Year of the Plague (4.15)
Happiness III (4.31)
Sunday Rain Sets In (3.50)
Vermillioncore (5.09)
Don’t Hate Me (9.34)

Blu-ray exclusive bonus tracks

Lazarus (2015 recording) (3:57)
My Book Of Regrets (edit) (3:34)
Don’t Hate Me (SW vocal version) (9:34)
My Book Of Regrets (instrumental) (9:35)
Happiness III (instrumental) (4:31)
Don’t Hate Me (instrumental) (9:34)

SW_cover_4_1_2webBuy 4 ½ on Amazon

CD from Amazon

Blu-ray from Amazon

Vinyl from Amazon

Buy 4 ½ from Burning Shed

Blu-ray from Burning Shed

CD from Burning Shed

Vinyl from Burning Shed

 





Tim Bowness – Stupid Things That Mean The World

1 07 2015

stupidthings220Stupid Things That Mean The World is the the third solo album from
no-man / Henry Fool singer Tim Bowness, and comes just over a year after his acclaimed Abandoned Dancehall Dreams release.

Stupid Things That Mean The World displays much more variety than its predecessor. A case in point is album opener The Great Electric Teenage Dream, a powerful, aggressive early 70s Bowie-esque piece driven by dirty guitars (courtesy of Bruce Soord and Michael Bearpark) and thumping drums from Sanguine Hum‘s Andrew Booker and Pat Mastelotto from King Crimson.

“Once a record, now an unpaid stream.”

Sing To Me evolved from a 20 year old previously unreleased no-man song, with Bowness adding new lyrics and an expanded arrangement. Hazy violin lines from Anna Phoebe flit amongst the performances delivered by the regular Bowness band of Stephen Bennett, Colin Edwin, Michael Bearpark and Andrew Booker.

The Celtic sounding twin-guitar solo (Thin Lizzy eat your heart out) from Michael Bearpark really lifts the end section of the song.

Where You’ve Always Been is one of the early surprises on the album. A gossamer light piece that evolves as the song progresses, its a perfect summer song. The sad lyrics with remarkably uplifting music (a co-write with Roxy Music‘s Phil Manzanera) work surprisingly well together, and the end result is a song that sounds unlike anything Bowness has released previously.

Some lovely piano work from Stephen Bennett and moving guitar lines from Manzanera transform Where You’ve Always Been into one of the highlights of the album.

“Quoting lines from books you borrowed – the way you’ve always been.”

Photo by Charlotte Kinson

Stupid Things That Mean The World sits well in the sequenced album – its always a good sign when an album is well-paced. The albums title track is a naggingly addictive song, underpinned by Run Like Hell sounding echo guitar lines, and an outro section that reminds me a little of the quiet beauty of Virginia Astley.

Know That You Were Loved is one of the most moving songs Bowness has ever recorded, up there with no-man’s wherever there is light. Underpinned by soft backing vocals from David Rhodes (Kate Bush / Peter Gabriel) and guitar lines from Bruce Soord and Rhys Marsh, the simple arrangement reminds me of a lot of the mid 70s and the work of David Crosby (particularly If I Could Only Remember My Name…) and the sonic experimentation of bands like 10cc.

It’s my favourite Bowness vocal performance on the album, with lyrics that are very personal and touching.

The frailty of Know That You Were Loved is quickly washed away with the most brutal track on the album, Press Reset. Harking back to when no-man were flirting with the industrial, beat-driven material of Wild Opera, Press Reset takes the power of no-man’s Bleed and feeds it into my favourite track on the album.

“Tanked-up boys and weekend girls
Lying wasted on the pavement.”

A song dripping with isolation and rejection, the restraint shown by the musicians throughout the first half of the song ends abruptly and the remaining section will probably blow your speakers (and your mind) with its unbridled power.

All These Escapes drops the tempo back down, and revisits a song originally written back in the late 1980s. Sounding like it could have been included on a late 80s Peter Gabriel album, All These Escapes does not overstay its welcome and fades out as the beatless Everything You’re Not creeps in.

By far the most unusual song on the album, violins and proggy synth lines interweave the backing vocals provided by Bowness & Peter Hammill. An added bonus is the inclusion of brass in the arrangement. Whilst not exactly the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band, think more Peter Skellern and the mighty You’re A Lady. Listening to Everything You’re Not fuels my desire to hear more colliery brass in my pop music. Make it so,  Northern musicians, make it so.

Everything But You is a lyricless, short companion piece with some lively Jethro Tull-like flutes from Andrew Keeling and violins from Charlotte Dowding.

Photo by Charlotte Kinson

Soft William is a short but sweet song you might remember (in much simpler form) from the days of Tim’s Myspace page. Ah, digital nostalgia. Before you know it, the final track on the album is here.

At The End Of The Holiday is a sepia tinged shanty that ends the album perfectly. Soft acoustic guitars and gentle drums give the feel of a Martha’s Harbour for the 21st Century.

“She feels the breeze caress her skin, Wishes she wasn’t quite so thin.”

One of the saddest songs in the Bowness canon, with an almost baroque arrangement in some sections, At The End Of The Holiday is a fitting end to the most ambitious release to date from Tim Bowness.

Buy Stupid Things That Mean The World from Burning Shed – Burning Shed pre-orders come with an exclusive signed postcard and – on release day – a link to a flac download of a 5.1 mix of the album by Bruce Soord.

Buy Stupid Things That Mean The World from Amazon UK

Stupid Things That Mean The World album artwork by Jarrod Gosling
Tim Bowness photographs by Charlotte Kinson





Tim Bowness – Abandoned Dancehall Dreams

11 06 2014

Tim Bowness - Abandoned Dancehall Dreams

A mere 10 years after his debut solo album, no-man / Henry Fool singer Tim Bowness releases Abandoned Dancehall Dreams on June 23rd on the Inside Out label.  And it’s a world away from his debut.

The Warm-Up Man Forever kicks the album off in style – the opening song seems to feed off the spirit of mid-80s Kate Bush, from the urgent Sat In Your Lap toms through to the Hounds of Love referencing strings. Although the pace of the song is definitely cranked up a few notches from these Bush classics – imagine the Siouxsie & the Banshees drummer Budgie pounding away in a post-punk stylee, if you will.

“Cruising the backstage, spitting feathers”

The Warm-Up Man Forever is a great opening song, and has really grown from the version performed on the no-man tour a couple of years ago. A blood-thirsty guitar solo from Michael Bearpark brings the song to it’s end.

In an alternate universe, this is the track that opens this weeks edition of Top of the Pops, pop pickers.

But that was just a phase…

Smiler At 50 slows the pace, and sets the tone of loss and regret that runs deep throughout this album.

“The girl that Dads could laugh with, a face just right for first kiss”

A beautiful, aching string refrain signals the middle section of the song, as it heads towards its unexpectedly proggy ending. Fans of Steven Wilson‘s recent albums will love this powerful, dissonant outro. The songs on this album have really been given the chance to stretch and find their own space, with longer instrumental passages that are missing from previous Bowness solo material.

Picture by Charlotte Kinson

Before you have a chance to recover, the most heartbreaking track on the album hits you. Songs Of Distant Summers is in the mould of the classic no-man ballads of years gone by. Hanging piano chords, underpinned by sweet synth layers and deep bass, with a lyric that touches on the feeling musicians sometimes experience during that intense moment of creativity.

“Sweet songs from fading summers, old friends who grew apart”

For some reason, this song reminds of the wonderful, blissed out classic Winter in July by Bomb the Bass. I remember reading an interview many moons ago, I think it was with Bernard Sumner from New Order, who said he woke up to Winter in July playing on the radio and he thought he had died in his sleep and woke up in heaven.

Whilst Songs Of Distant Summers is virtually beatless, it has that heavenly feel mixed with found-sounds buried deep in the mix, and it takes you to another place. Oh, and I’m always a sucker for any song with rhodes piano.

I’ve been living with the album for nearly six months now, and I really do believe that Songs Of Distant Summers is up there with no-man’s Truenorth as one of the finest Bowness songs.

She sees the factory buildings…

Waterfoot has shades of another Bowness vehicle, Memories of Machines, his collaboration with Giancarlo Erra from Nosound. The lyrics and music reference an industrial Northern England long since disappeared (in a similar way to the excellent Big Big Train). Emotive synths (plus more rhodes, yay) and a lovely acoustic guitar reference Steve Hackett and a little of the spirit of early Genesis to these battle-scarred ears. Waterfoot really grows after repeated plays, and it’s playfulness is a joy.

This may be controversial, but I will fight the corner for Dancing For You being on a par with some of the mid-80s Phil Collins ballads. Yep, you read that correctly. Phil Collins has always been an easy (lover) target – but In the Air Tonight, If Leaving Me Is Easy and Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away are wonderful songs. Have a listen, and let go of your prejudice.

Picture by Charlotte Kinson

Anyway, back to Bowness. The piano and 80s drum machine might reference classic Collins, but the lyrics are much more hard-hitting and direct than anything Mr Sussudio has committed to vinyl.

“She was dancing for you, and you looked away.
Dancing for you, another you, on another day”

The 70s sounding backing vocals and decaying guitar top off probably the saddest song on the album. And the sad songs say so much, don’t you know.

Smiler At 52 finishes the story from earlier in the album’s song cycle, and sadly it’s not ended well for dear old Smiler. Glitchy percussion and a nagging keyboard line underpin the story of a lonely, middle-aged Smiler and her mountain of regret.

“Far from young and not yet old.”

Looped vocals and an engaging bass-line take the song to its fade.

I Fought Against The South is the longest track on the album, and probably the biggest surprise on first listen. It’s the track on the album that really captures that live no-man feel from the recent live dates, and is almost a cousin to one of my favourite no-man songs, lighthouse.

A wonderful, loping beat and heart-wrenching strings and solo violin drive this slow-burning epic track. It’s a perfect headphone track, with great separation between instruments – listen as a dirty, scratched organ smashes into the mix 1/4 of the way through, and then disappears, taking the strings with it.

“The dream was in tatters, so what did it matter? My temper was quick but my movements were slow”

After a few seconds of near silence, the toms usher in the final, powerful instrumental section. Played loud, the fluttering cymbal work and interplay between guitar and keyboards is up there with the finest modern-day progressive music.

Too much is not enough

Normally, I Fought Against The South would be the perfect album closer, but Bowness has chosen to close the album with Beaten By Love. The oldest song on the album, this is the definitive version. A perfect post-punk bookend to the album opener, Beaten By Love is the darkest track on the album, with some fine bass work by current no-man bassist, Pete Morgan. Tim’s partner in no-man, Steven Wilson, as well as mixing the album, contributed the frankly evil-sounding guitar to the album’s menacing closing track.

“So completely, beaten by your love”

Abandoned Dancehall Dreams deserves to be heard by as wide an audience as possible. It’s almost an oddity in the modern era, a throw-back to those carefully sequenced releases from the golden era of classic albums.

Its a release that I think will eventually be considered as a career highlight. The attention to detail is evident throughout the whole package – from the range of wonderful, individual performances from musicians such as Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson), Porcupine Tree‘s Colin Edwin, Anna Phoebe and members of the no-man live band, to the album mastering by Pink Floyd engineer, Andy Jackson.

Potentially my favourite album of 2014? I thought it would be when I first heard the album back in January, and I’ve yet to hear anything released this year to make me think I was wrong.

Picture by Charlotte Kinson

Sounds of Distant Summers

The two CD version of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams contains a companion CD of alternate versions and out-takes. The wonderful Grasscut contribute a string-driven, more percussive take on Smiler at 52.

Ambient keyboard overlord Richard Barbieri (Japan / Porcupine Tree) delivers a colourful mix of Songs Of Distant Summers, seeped in the nostalgic tick of clocks, childrens toys and low, rumbling bass synth.

UXB serve up the most radical alternate mix, with the boy and girl vocals of Dancing for You brought to the fore, and the Bowness lead vocals completely stripped out. It’s almost like an electronic Swingle Singers! Please believe me when I say it works really well.

The 5 remaining tracks are out-takes from the album sessions.  The track Abandoned Dancehall Dream is a bossa-nova beat, scratchy stereogram sounding track over which Bowness croons  “the sound of dead men singing (they love you)”. It reminds me of the music of The Caretaker (think Kubrick’s The Shining), and it’s an intriguing shorter than short song, that whilst it fits the abandoned dancehall concept, sonically does not fit on the main album, but thankfully has found a home on the companion disc.

The same can be said of The Sweetest Bitter Pill – a jazzier song than any on the main album, with some lovely synth work. It featured in early album sequences but always stood out a little, and so found it’s rightful home on disc two.

The Warm-Up Man Forever (band version) sounds like early U2 fed on a diet of Icicle Works albums. It’s good to hear this early take, which sounds like my memory of how no-man performed this track on their last tour, but it’s surpassed by the main album take.

The remaining two tracks are alt-takes of Songs of Distant Summers, recorded during the early band sessions for the album. More guitar driven than the album version, they offer a different perspective, but as WUMF, the seeds cannot compare to the full-bloom.

Whilst you will probably dip into the companion album every now and then, its the main album that you will find yourself returning to time and time again. So treat yourself to a copy from one of the links below.

Order Abandoned Dancehall Dreams from Burning Shed.

Buy the CD from Amazon UK

Buy the CD on Amazon US

Visit the Tim Bowness website

Tim Bowness pictures by Charlotte Kinson





Tim Bowness / Peter Chilvers – California, Norfolk

3 11 2013

california, norfolk was the debut album from Tim Bowness (no-man/Henry Fool) and Peter Chilvers (Brian Eno/Karl Hyde). Originally released online, with no promotion and in very limited quantities in 2002, california, norfolk has been given a well-deserved deluxe-edition treatment by the Burning Shed label in 2013, and will now hopefully reach a wider audience.

disc one

california, norfolk cover

Disc one contains the original album, which is improved by the sympathetic Michael Bearpark remaster. This is not a brickwall, pump-up-the-volume remaster, but one which breathes space and separation into the original recordings.

So the bass sounds fatter, the strings cut through the mix and you hear sounds that were somewhat hidden before (such as what sounds like a clock in album opener hostage).

If you haven’t heard california, norfolk before, it’s a perfect late-night album. Echoes of The Blue Nile’s debut album filter through on hostage.

“the girl you never forgot,
went underground, defences shot”

Lyrically, hostage can be filed under the same heading of unrequited as Everything But The Girl’s sublime Missing. Both touch on memories of people who have moved on, whereas in hostage, I get the impression that the subject did not find “some better place”.

The title track has a real feel of a decaying seaside town, and reflects on the characters who remain behind when the glamour has faded.

post-its is one of my favourite songs, period. The perfect torch-song.

It’s the track I’ve played most from this album, since it’s original release 11 long years ago.  A processed old drum machine, yearning strings, and slightly off-kilter guitar serve as a perfect backdrop to some of Bowness’s most direct and emotive lyrics.

“We spent a lifetime devising plans, to waste our lives.”

post-its is a song I never tire of hearing, and it’s wonderful to hear this song again with the added clarity of the remaster.

“In this town not meant for kissing, we sat and kissed”

also out of air wasn’t one of my favourites when the album first came out, but has grown on me over the years. Some lovely Frippesque guitar on this track.

days turn into years is the bleakest song on the album. Set against a backdrop of textured synths and relentless rain bouncing off rooftops, this tale of being trapped in a situation where little changes is not for the faint-hearted.

“Photos of cats, in northern landscapes
lie on the bed, all wet with tears.”

rocks on the green is the album’s proggiest moment, with marimba, bass and guitar slowly building in intensity throughout the song. Some lovely synth lines creep into the mix towards the end.

winter with you is a track that divided listeners when the album was originally released, mainly due to the footsteps in the snow effect that runs through three quarters of the track. Personally I think this effect adds to the mood of the song, and offers an alternative rhythm that makes more sense than taking the easy option of just dropping a drum loop into a song thats so obviously rooted in the winter months.

Maybe it’s my love of snow, but around November of every year winter with you appears on my playlists. I love the sound and feel of walking through deep, fresh snow and I love sad, melancholic songs, so that’s all the boxes ticked right there.

“It never felt the way you wanted, she never came the night you cried.”

Its the longest track on the album by far, but one of those rare album epics where it doesn’t seem to last that long. Marimbas make another appearance to usher in the second part of winter with you.

“Don’t want to be a part of this.”

This track is a great companion piece to the winter-themed Iceland by All About Eve and Kate Bush’s 50 Words for Snow from 2011.

dreamer’s song end the album, and lifts the mood, like the arrival of spring. Musically uplifting, a pastoral sounding piece originally written for Henry Fool, lyrically it’s as miserable as ever, thank goodness!

Picture copyright Carl Glover

disc two

The second disc of california, norfolk is made up of a remaster of the overstrand alternate / outtakes collection, with some previously unreleased studio cuts and live recordings.

winter with you (alternate) is a snow-free zone, with fender rhodes piano and a much more chaotic string arrangement.

post-it’s (alternate) has a wonderful piano line after the first chorus, and is a good alternative take on the song, but cannot surpass the original version.

One of the highlights of the second disc is the version of sorry looking soldier (alternate), a song from the long out-of-print World of Bright Futures album, and this is one of my favourite versions of the song.

The alternate version of rocks on the green has a Mike Oldfield feel to the arrangement. world of bright futures (alternate), is a wonderful wurlitzer-like version of the Samuel Smiles song, and another great version.

criminal caught in the crime is a track that was re-recorded for the Slow Electric album from 2011, and gives a hint of what the second Tim Bowness / Peter Chilvers album might have sounded like. It’s a much more electronic piece than anything on the main california, norfolk album, and has some lovely textures and organ sounds.

Four live songs bring the second disc to a close. Hearing the songs performed with just piano and voice in a live environment shows how they have evolved over the years, and the short version of post-its is my favourite of the four live songs.

Deluxe-edition packaging

The 2013 version of california, norfolk comes in a deluxe dvd-sized digi-book, which includes sleeve notes by Tim Bowness and Peter Chilvers, plus previously unseen artwork from Carl Glover.

Buy california, norfolk from Burning Shed

Visit the Tim Bowness website





Henry Fool – Men Singing

1 03 2013

"Men Singing" coverMen Singing is the long-awaited follow-up to the band’s 2001 self-titled debut.

The 2013 line-up of the band includes new collaborators Jarrod Gosling (I Monster/Regal Worm), Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music) and classical violinist Steve Bingham and drummer Andrew Booker (both part of the current live no-man line-up).

The debut Henry Fool album was a mixture of instrumentals and songs, whereas Men Singing is a solely instrumental album, and is a much more coherent listening experience.

Men Singing was recorded over a long period of time – between 2006 and 2012, with Jarrod Gosling and Phil Manzanera adding their contributions towards the end of the recording process. Phil Manzanera adds guitar to Everyone In Sweden and Man Singing. Jarrod Gosling appears on all four tracks, contributing Mellotron, glockenspiel and the excellent album artwork.

Album opener Everyone In Sweden sets the mood, with shifting time signatures, and solos alternating between guitar, jazzy saxophone, and very distorted bass. The music shifts across genres, often two or three times in the same song, which is a great way to keep you listening, especially in the longer pieces. Some instrumental albums can be hard to listen to in one sitting, but Men Singing is certainly not background music, and the performances demand your full attention.

The vintage keyboards often give a real early to mid-70s feel to the pieces. There’s a wonderful section 7 minutes in to Everyone In Sweden, the album’s longest track, where everything breaks down, and keyboard washes give way to a mournful sax and guitar line as the piece ends.

Man Singing, which of course has (no) man singing, is a slower paced affair, and features no-man’s Tim Bowness on very angular chord/arpeggio guitar. There are hints of Adrian Belewesque guitar sounds on the album, which along with the keyboards, sometimes give a feel of Bowie‘s Berlin trilogy as well as more obvious King Crimson influences. The cut to the basics chorused guitar and strings ending works perfectly on this track.

Track 3 is the perfectly titled My Favourite Zombie Dream, which has a real feeling of dread and anticipation about it. Oscillating strings from Stephen Bennett underpin the piece, as it slowly builds to it’s climax, like a soundtrack to a yet-to-be released George A. Romero film.

The final track on Men Singing is the 13 minute plus Chic Hippo. The violin playing of Steve Bingham features heavily, and Stephen Bennett (according to the sleevenotes) is credited with Miles Davis, Mavis Riley and Terry Riley impressions. Mavis Riley? That must have been difficult to pull off – “ooh, I don’t really know”.  Apologies, no-one under 45 (or anyone outside of the UK) will get that cultural reference.

The mid-section of Chic Hippo is one of the most rewarding parts of the album. Fluttering church organ sounds give way to sax riffs from Myke Clifford that would not have sounded out of place on early Bowie or Roxy Music albums, topped off with some wonderful slide guitar from Michael Bearpark. The percussion work from Andrew Booker is another highlight of Chic Hippo.

Men Singing is a strong second album from Henry Fool, and a radical departure for Tim Bowness. Have a listen to the edits on this page, via SoundCloud and YouTube. Another indication of the quality of this album is that it was mastered by award-winning Pink Floyd sound engineer, Andy Jackson.

The album is likely to appeal to fans of mid-period Porcupine Tree as well as those intrigued by Steven Wilson‘s recent foray into more improvisational / jazz-rock influenced material. If you like albums that disturb as much as entertain, then let the men of Henry Fool sing for you.

Henry FoolMen Singing
(KSCOPE244 / 836) – March 11th, 2013 – available in vinyl and CD versions

Order Men Singing from Burning Shed

Buy Men Singing on Amazon UK








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