StarsDie.com Review – Love and Endings
No-Man have been around since 1986, when it began as a solo venture for Steven Wilson, much in the way Porcupine Tree was formed shortly thereafter. A lot can happen over 25 years; indeed, in that time span the band has released six studio records and a fairly gargantuan pile of singles, EP’s and compilations, not a single one particularly adhering to the exact sound of the release before it. The evolution of No-Man is kaleidoscopic, a history of the multitude of different sonic patterns that have sprung out from the principal songwriting team of Wilson and lead vocalist Tim Bowness.
Love and Endings is a new release celebrating the 25 year milestone, and it documents the group’s live performance on October 14, 2011 for the 10th anniversary of the Burning Shed label/store, offering yet another perspective on a tight selection of songs from all across their extensive catalogue — this time adding a little more rock bravado to their seemingly patented brand of synth pop battling atmospheric balladry.
An example of their newest transmutation is the stunning performance of “All the Blue Changes”, one of the contemplative, slow, moody pieces from the group’s transcendental masterpiece Together We’re Stranger. On that night, the band took the album perspective — perhaps best called an ‘evolver’ for the way it gradually adds and builds elements over its 8 minutes, a part of a lengthy suite of similarly atmospheric songs — and launched it into the stratosphere, creating a crashing, noisy crescendo of tremolo picked guitar and tension.
It’s an interesting change from the already quirky and sometimes bizarre tapestry No-Man have created over the years. Where the more expected sound of the group combines the delicate, sweet vocals of Bowness with drum machines, organ, violin, flute, piano, clean electric and acoustic guitars and a progressive sense of space, this gig saw a more explosive, rock-infused direction populated by interlocked violin and guitar, grooving basslines and bombastic drums. The constant is still the ever-unexpected vocal, not because it lacks passion or stunning delivery, but for the particular way it floats just above the instrumentation, gently massaging in Bowness’ introspective and poetic lyrics with a mature sense of offering — and expecting nothing back. You’ll not hear the same combination anywhere else.
“Beaten by Love”, a long-lost track exclusive to this release, adds a level of uncertainty to the mellow No-Man sound they’ve been refining since 1998’s Returning Jesus. Backed by a simple, understated rhythm section recalling the tom-led approach on Porcupine Tree’s “Chloroform”, Wilson adds unsettling flourishes of psychedelic distorted guitar around Bowness’ soft vocal delivery. It peters out much the same way it begins, a brief, egoless glance in yet a different, barely explored direction.
Love and Endings manages to offer not only the career retrospective compilation befitting such an anniversary, but also a celebration of all the corners No-Man have added to their enormous tapestry over more than two decades of fearless exploration at the edges of pop music. You can purchase it exclusively through Burning Shed as a CD+DVD; pre-orders prior to the April 10 release date ship will come with a booklet of lyrics and notes signed by Bowness. You can also grab a free download of the performance of “Lighthouse” from this release!