A perfect post-rock manifestation…
Whilst huge swathes of the prog-metal world has fallen at the feet of Porcupine Tree’s Steve Wilson, it’s always seemed that his most interesting work from a textural and melodic viewpoint has taken place within the more sepulchral confines of No-Man.
Alongside vocalist Tim Bowness, he’s been crafting delicately beguiling records since the late 80s. Their last album, aptly titled Together We’re Stranger (2003) showed their capacity for getting beyond obvious shoe-gazing introspection in favour of some really unsettling journeys into the interior.
Bowness’ lyrics have a detached, documentary-like quality to them. Be it the most intimate flickers of emotion or a tangential, seemingly irrelevant detail, all are caught in his gaze and given equal weight in these stark accounts of heartbreak, abandonment and self-doubt. Yet there’s nothing removed or remote about his singing. His trademark existentialist croon smoulders with emotion and empathy for the hapless retinue of lost souls inhabiting No-Man’s carefully crafted world of late-night heartache, rain-swept affairs and bitter-sweet long-lost summer days
Yet darkness lurks below the glacial beauty of the surface. Perhaps the best example of this is found on the pensive and disconcerting closer, “Mixtaped” which offers an eerily absorbing glimpse into lives trying to cope with a lover’s rejection. Half-way between The Blue Nile’s soul-searching melancholy and the edgy menace of Laughing Stock-era Talk Talk, it’s an utterly compelling tour through the abyss of loss, loneliness and regret.
The sustained air of woebegone reverie with its masterful blend of voice, surges of orchestral strings and icy ripples of retro-sounding guitar suggests that Schoolyard Ghosts is not only No-Man’s finest album to date but is arguably the post-rock equivalent of Sinatra’s Only The Lonely. It really is that good.