The duo of Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson, aka No-Man, is one of those groups that I often forget about, though I like their music very much. So much so, that the name just sort of lodges itself into my subconscious, and occasionally comes to the forefront from time to time — like today. For no reason other than curiosity, I dropped by the band’s website, partly to see if the band was even still around. Of course, after two decades of existence — on a sidenote, it’s always amazing, convicting, and reassuring to think of the many bands out there are still plugging away, under the radar, even after all of these decades — I doubt they’d see any reason to call it quits.
While it’s unfortunate that so many of the song samples on the band’s site are in the Real format, they do offer a downloadable MP3 in the (aptly-titled) “Downloads” section. And of course, there’s always No-Man’s MySpace page, which is currently streaming four songs.
I’ll admit, it’s been years since I’ve listened to No-Man, but their sound is immediately one that I find it comfortable to ease back into, a la their contemporaries and peers in bands such as The Blue Nile, The Rainfall Years, and Talk Talk. Perhaps the best word to describe their music is “eclectic.” Over the course of 20 years, they’ve assimilated and played with a number of genres, ranging from progressive rock to synth-pop to trip-hop to world music to classical to jazz to folk, and everything in-between.
However, regardless of the genres they mash together in their songs, two things serve as unifying agents. One is the unpredictability in their music. Just when I think I know where a melody is going, it suddenly takes a slightly different turn, usually in a slightly more minor key, and the result is something much darker, deeper, and fuller than whatever I was expecting. And just when I think I know all of the instruments and elements they’re going to throw at me, they pull off something intriguing — such as the hallucinatory, Boards Of Canada-esque synths that drift through the opening moments of “Returning Jesus” and mix with what sounds like a gamelan, albeit a gamelan composed from whatever pots and pans the duo pulled from the kitchen.
The other thing that ultimately brings all of their music together is Bowness’ voice. Smooth and mellifluous, it immediately dredges up comparisons to the likes David Sylvian. His voice is certainly melodramatic, and when paired with the lyrics, can sometimes become a bit too overwrought. But at the same, there’s purity and intimacy to the overall sound that ultimately counteracts that, resulting in a sound that I find it very easy to slip back into, like a warm, comforting blanket, year after year.