Review Summary: No-Man changes its sound yet again while still retaining the mellow foundation that has become a staple of the group’s music.
It’s safe to assume that a large portion of modern progressive rock fans are aware of Steven Wilson in some capacity. He has received plaudits mainly for his work with Porcupine Tree and his solo records, as well as his production work with bands like Opeth. With all the recognition Steven receives its surprising to see the lack of awareness of his other musical project which began simultaneously with Porcupine Tree, and which is arguably his second strongest venture to date.
No-Man is an interesting musical project that has avoided the pigeon-hole dilemma due to its ever evolving musical direction. The band has blended elements of pop, trip hop, jazz, ambient, rock, and numerous other genres into various concoctions over the years very effectively. This genre mixing continues on Returning Jesus
with this album being more minimalistic than the experimental Wild Opera
. Some of the genres highlighted here include ambient, art rock, and jazz. While the songs have a structure around which flourishes of melodies are sprinkled on, the music surprisingly feels like it has more freedom than the previous album did. The song lengths vary much more than on Wild Opera
, and this helps in keeping the music interesting.
There is a considerable focus given towards atmosphere, and immersing the listeners completely in the musical journey. The band wastes no time in this process and begin the album with one of the most beautiful and haunting moments the members have composed. For the majority of the album the music maintains a very mild tempo and the band rarely gets adventurous with regards to time signature changes or quirky ideas like on previous albums. While this makes the music feel slightly stagnant by the end, the variety of sounds and instruments present, including trumpets, percussions, flutes, and the double bass, should keep listeners intrigued. The guest musicians definitely add another dimension to the music and are even the driving force during some song sections.
Tim Bowness’ vocal style took me a while to digest, but from the beginning I couldn’t deny that they had a certain charm. His voice is instantly recognizable, as are his vocal melodies. The almost haunting music style on Returning Jesus
is more suited towards Bowness’ cold and eerie vocals. He has this uncanny ability to add interesting vocal lines where the music doesn’t provide him with much to work with, and no song reflects this better than opener “Only Rain”.
For minimalistic and moody albums, the production normally plays a significant role in successfully conveying the albums’ emotions. The group does a terrific job in bringing the instruments to life with the rich and organic production. The impact of the album is enhanced thanks to the sonic vocabulary that is employed in the music. As expected Steven experiments with some refreshing guitar and keyboard tones that I haven’t heard him use before, and all to great effect.
marks a more significant change in the group’s sound, with the minimalistic and ambient aspects being almost exclusively explored. The results are successful and would lead to the band further expanding on these styles on successive albums. This album is recommended for fans of Steven’s mellower work.