No-Man
Love You to Bits


3.8
excellent

Review

by Raul Stanciu STAFF
November 23rd, 2019 | 12 replies


Release Date: 11/22/2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: 25 years in the making…

Once the main project of Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness, No-Man has evolved significantly over the years. While shape shifting from one album to another, their roots were definitely grounded in pop music. No matter how far they have ventured both together and separately, that pop sensibility eventually kicked in. At the beginning of this century, the group entered a more downtempo, late Talk Talk-esque phase that favored minimalism and subtlety over groovy beats. The atmosphere got darker with each LP, Together We’re Stranger & Schoolyard Ghosts featuring some of the bleakest tunes yet. As a result, the 180 degree turn taken on the latest project, Love You to Bits comes across as a surprising move. Nevertheless, it didn’t burst out of nowhere, since both men recently released two of their most accessible solo releases so far: To the Bone and Flowers at the Scene.

Love You to Bits is essentially a 36-minute composition (a la Porcupine Tree’s Voyage 34) that flows through several sonic phases ranging from funky disco to ethereal ambient passages. Divided into two main parts, ‘Love You to Bits’ (5 bits) and ‘Love You to Pieces’ (5 pieces), the song sees the two musicians reaching back to their original, early ‘90s sound, albeit with faint dips in later experiments. In fact, the former’s draft was recorded in late 1994, while working on a follow-up to Flowermouth. The tune was shelved multiple times over the years due to sonic incompatibilities with the then-current material, but was finally dug out in late 2018. After some months of rearrangements, plus further recording, ‘Love You to Pieces’ was conceived too. At a first glance, the whole project seems head scratching, yet after a couple of listens it really sinks in. As the synth bass and sequencers kick in on ‘Bit 1’, Tim passionately starts singing, accompanied by what seems to be a hazy, high pitched, E-bow guitar lead. Shortly, the disco groove settles in, alongside gentle piano notes. Although spiced with current production technology, this throwback to a long gone era is compelling. After a short interlude, ‘Bit 3’ introduces a playful, twangy guitar melody which soon will find its place in between the multiple layers (and will resurface later). Then, ‘Bit 4’ suddenly stops the beat, giving way to lush synth pads and a dreamy build-up during which Bowness’ lovely croon takes over. The Pink Floyd-esque guitar solo on this part fits brilliantly, reminiscing early PT output. A contrasting, noisier, oscillator-manipulated one follows, a nod to recent paths. The band always enjoyed pushing the envelope, combining disparate elements into weirdly cohesive journeys. This is pretty much what we’re offered with Love You to Bits.

Venturing a bit from the tune’s core, ‘Love You to Pieces’ acts as a slightly moodier counterpart to its predecessor. A cello introduces ‘Piece 1’, growing into a slower paced version of the main groove with a stronger emphasis on sequencers. Bowness’ intense vocal contributions at times share a sinister undertone and the lyrics suggest difficulties in maintaining a love relationship and ponders the consequences of ending it. The old school trance influences reveal themselves through melodic key arpeggios, plus, ‘Piece 2’ and ‘Piece 3’ take their cues from early ‘90s dance music, complete with acid jazz influenced keyboard solos and Pet Shop Boys aesthetics. Nevertheless, there’s an inevitable come down to this party. The album’s finale sheds most instruments, leaving an airy synth pad to send us off. ‘Piece 5’ includes sparse piano notes that gradually fade out, while Tim cautiously contemplates the future of this relationship and perhaps losing interest in his partner. The ambient coda can be further explored on the bonus composition, ‘Love You to Shreds’ (see the LYTB EP). In a way, it wouldn’t be No-Man without presenting us both sides of things, leaving room for interpretations. The front man’s stories were usually centered on precise details, small gestures or reactions, as well as overthinking characters with hidden intentions and regrets.

I would say Love You to Bits is a polarizing record, yet after observing the band’s eclectic catalog, it doesn’t seem so surprising. The fan base might be divided, still, chances are a good part of it is open to any experiments Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson release (both have constantly explored new grounds). Despite the stylistic differences, there is significant attention to details and focus on groove. The only issue might be the fact that the LP is too insular. You get 36-minutes of music (50 if you add 'Love You to Shreds') that revolve around similar ideas. They managed to add a good amount of diversity, so you remain attentive. Even so, the piece can be better appreciated when digested as a whole, rather than separated. As a result, it doesn’t share the immediacy or peaks of previous affairs, however, I admire the way No-Man sewn it together. What's more important is that the duo continue to produce strong material and hopefully, it won't take another decade to receive new music from them.



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user ratings (19)
3.7
great
other reviews of this album
TheMoonchild (4.5)
A 36-minute dance music epic is just ONE of many beguiling attractions that Wilson and Bowness' last...


Comments:Add a Comment 
insomniac15
Staff Reviewer
November 23rd 2019


4917 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

Really interesting release and a change of pace. Not their best, but it's a great album.



Stream the album here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_te5UcXcKh8&list=OLAK5uy_nJ240ag3sYGTQ9J-CQYsXV6AvcFIB_kjU

'Love You to Shreds' (ambient piece) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9epzkVDQUQc

Digging: Lionize - Panic Attack!

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
November 24th 2019


18878 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Enjoyed reading the review, and I share a lot of the same feelings. It's great that Wilson and Bowness felt compelled to make this happen. Not really my kind of style, but they made it work and I enjoyed a fair bit.

I suspect this is a one-off, but if they continue to make more music together I'd be thrilled, especially if it sounded like their 1999-2008 albums.

Digging: No-Man - Love You To Bits

LePsych
November 24th 2019


22 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

I was cautious when I first heard about the record and the previews didn't sell me on the premise at all, but listening to it, it's unmistakably a No-Man record and keeps most of the band's trademarks intact. Also I'm a big fan of their older records so having an album in that genre is definitely a good thing to me.

Good review!

insomniac15
Staff Reviewer
November 24th 2019


4917 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

Thanks! I enjoy both eras of No-Man's output, but I tend to listen more to the 1999-2008 material. This is a fun project and I am sure they had fun working on it. I just hope they'll keep No-Man in mind and return to the project sooner than a decade. Some live performances would be an amazing bonus haha, but I highly doubt it will happen.

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
November 25th 2019


18878 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Yeah both are so prolific that it's hard to imagine this being their last album under the No-Man name. I hope they keep going, tho it's important to keep in mind that the No-Man continuation essentially became Tim Bowness's solo career:

After Schoolyard Ghosts, Bowness started writing music for No-Man's follow-up, but when Wilson was too busy with his solo career, Bowness made music under his own name instead and started with Abandoned Dancehall Dreams including what he had written in mind for No-Man.

A bonus ambient epic Love You to Shreds is in this companion EP, for me being the acknowledgement of their 1999-2008 albums that I wanted: https://www.sputnikmusic.com/soundoff.php?albumid=339442

DamnVanne
November 26th 2019


3204 Comments


Nice review. I’ll check this out. I’ve been a fan of Mr Wilson’s solo work and PT for something like 11 years but I’ve never given his other projects a listen

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
November 26th 2019


18878 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

No-Man is essential listening for fans of Porcupine Tree, especially their 2000s albums.

WhiteNoise
November 26th 2019


3667 Comments


I’ve been a porcupine tree fan for maybe five years and I’ve never even heard of No Man.

What’s the best album to start with?

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
November 27th 2019


18878 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Maybe start with Flowermouth or Wild Opera if you like electronic music and trip hop, or Returning Jesus if you're more into spacey art rock and ambient music.

They have two eras of their sound. The 1991-1997 albums are like ambitious trip hop, new age, electronic music which this album is a throwback to.

The second era is their 1998-2008 albums (my favorites, and some of the best and most unique music of the past 20 years imo), more slow-paced, proggy, atmospheric post-rock/ambient music.

It's all unique and the band's development is interesting to follow, so I'd say ideally listen to it all.

TheMoonchild
November 27th 2019


1197 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Just got finished listening. My ONE complaint is that it's too damn short. Otherwise I loved it.

zakalwe
November 27th 2019


29352 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Album makes me want to put me handbag down on the dance floor and cut some serious rug.

OmairSh
December 9th 2019


15022 Comments


Hahah Zak. On A Steven /Anathema binge I see

Digging: Cigarettes After Sex - Cigarettes After Sex



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