no-man Soundcloudno-man Burning Shed storeno-man last.fmno-man Youtubeno-man Twitter no-man Facebook

schoolyard ghosts

No-Man – Schoolyard Ghosts (Kscope) – released 12th May, 2008


album credits

studio photos




all sweet things (6.47)
beautiful songs you should know (4.26)
pigeon drummer (6.18)
truenorth (12.48)
wherever there is light (4.21)
song of the surf (6.12)
streaming (3.32)
mixtaped (8.36)


Written and recorded between Autumn 2007 and Spring 2008, schoolyard ghosts is no-man's sixth official studio album and its first since 2003's together we're stranger.

A distinctive combination of beautifully detailed songwriting, haunting melodies and inventively cinematic production, schoolyard ghosts sees no-man’s core duo of Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson expanding the band's sonic palette by collaborating with, amongst others, Californian pedal steel ace Bruce Kaphan, saxophonist/flautist Theo Travis, drummers Pat Mastelotto and Gavin Harrison, and the London Session Orchestra (arranged by Dave Stewart).

Featuring the sweetly hypnotic wherever there is light, the warped dynamics of pigeon drummer, the outsider lament of all sweet things, and the subtly evolving explorations of the uplifting semi-orchestral epic truenorthschoolyard ghosts reveals the band taking its accessible and ambitious blend of Post-Rock and Singer-songwriter influences to an even more focused and personalised place than before.

The schoolyard ghosts cd/dvda comes in a lavish digi-pack with booklet and also features a 5.1 mix of the album, a photo gallery and videos for 3 songs.

Stream truenorth

iPhone / iPad link  

schoolyard ghosts is now available to purchase from Burning Shed's no-man store.

album credits

recorded in england, sweden, france, and the usa, august 2007-march 2008
produced by no-man
recorded and mixed by steven wilson at no man’s land

additional recording by tim bowness, stephen bennett and the musicians in their own studios

strings recorded at angel studios, engineer - steve price,
orchestra leader - perry montague-mason

all songs published by hands off it’s mine publishing ltd / copyright control

music by no-man, except beautiful songs you should know (bowness/erra) and song of the surf (no-man/murphy).

all lyrics by bowness.

all sweet things
tim bowness – vocals
steven wilson – piano, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, keyboards, glockenspiel, harmony vocals
peter chilvers – samples from ‘surfacing’

beautiful songs you should know
tim bowness – vocals
steven wilson - guitars, bass, keyboards
colin edwin – fretless acoustic bass
rick edwards – percussion
marianne de chastelaine – cello

pigeon drummer
tim bowness – vocals, mellotron
steven wilson – keyboards, electric guitars, bass, harp
pat mastelotto – drums, percussion

tim bowness – vocals, piano (part 1), chime guitars, vocal loops
steven wilson – guitars, bass, keyboards, harmonium, percussion, harmony vocals
theo travis – flute, soprano sax (part 2)
fabrice lefebvre – yang t’chin (part 1)
andy booker – electronic percussion (part 3)
strings arranged by dave stewart and performed by the london session orchestra

wherever there is light
tim bowness – vocals
steven wilson – guitars, mellotron
bruce kaphan – pedal steel guitar
theo travis – flute

song of the surf
tim bowness – vocals
steven wilson – guitars, harp, bass, keyboards
pat mastelotto – drums, percussion

tim bowness – vocals
steven wilson – guitars, keyboards, drum programming
bruce kaphan – e-bow pedal steel guitar
pete morgan – bass
andy booker – drum loop

tim bowness – vocals, musical box
steven wilson – guitars, bass, musical box, electric piano, organ
theo travis – flute
gavin harrison - drums

[top of page]

studio photos

Photographs © Steven Wilson

[top of page]

videos from the schoolyard ghosts album


all sweet things


wherever there is light

Watch more videos at days in the trees, the no-man Youtube channel

[top of page]


all sweet things

the run-down streets, the civil wars,
you don't go there anymore -
it's how you used to live.

the trampled hopes, the made-up laws,
the itchy feet, the pub quiz bores -
it's so hard to forgive.

weekend slimmers count their chains,
still wanting someone else to blame.
you watch them come and go.

empty nightclub escapades,
they tell you more than words can say -
that open doors get closed.

the empty rooms, the empty house,
someday soon, you'll work it out -
still finding the way back home.

the schoolyard ghosts, the playtime fears,
you take your pills, they disappear -
the people that you've known.


all sweet things,
all sweet things will come again.

when the heartbeat slows.
when the silence grows.

beautiful songs you should know

I want to play you
all the beautiful songs you should know.
I want to save you.
with the beautiful songs we can grow.

I breathe in the light.
I breathe in the life.

loving arms and cowboy guns,
mothers holding wayward sons.

breathe in the light,
breathe in the life.

I want to give you
all the beautiful dreams you can bear,
I want to show you
all the possible ways we could care.

open the door,
breathe in the light.
opening eyes
breathe in the life.

morning sunshine on the leaves
cancels out the city freeze.

loving arms and cowboy guns,
mothers holding wayward sons.


pigeon drummer

the background buzz, the lo-fi hum,
the fallen saviours beat their ritual drums.

their eyes alive with destiny -
sweet delusions, which serve to set us free.

the bar room bids for tarts with hearts,
the dumbed down kids in souped up cars.

the clapped out lovers on their guard -
smaller details written large.

her sun-kissed skin caught in your frame,
you know you'll never pass this way again.

you wash the dirt out of your hair.
you find the words you need when no-one's there.

the moments lost.

the distant stars.


you survived another winter.
you survived where nothing grew.

the days felt cold and never changing,
so you just slept the whole way through.

when you think about the future,
it’s like the past, but hard and small.

an old idea you stole from someone.
a borrowed dream that’s born to fall.

take a taxi through the snow
tell them you love them,
don’t let go.

through the tunnel moving slow,
tonight’s there’s nowhere
you won’t go.

you survived yourself.
you survived inside the lost world.
the dreams of love repeat.

subways sing with heated calls –
the g-string sirens walking tall.
summer fires turn winter dreams.
an old romantic’s hotshot schemes.

you survived yourself.
you survived inside the lost world.
the ghosts of harm retreat.

sweet surrender to the night.
sweet surrender to the light.
the dreams of love repeat.

wherever there is light

jane passes through the crowds
outside the mercury lounge.
she loves the city sounds.
she feels that she's been found.

wherever there is light,
she follows.

the bats are out again,
kids shout in Summer rain -
for real, imagined, shame,
for things they cannot name.

she thinks of all their bright

wherever there is light,
she follows.

walk in and out of rooms.
fall in and out of love.

song of the surf

self-defeat in sparkling eyes,
breaking up the family ties.
she smiles and tells another lie.
all you want to do is cry.

hopes drowning in the hurt -
song of the surf.

and as she takes the sun away,
she asks how you feel today.
the sky has turned pavement grey,
the remnants of her body spray
still lingers on your shirt.

song of the surf

everytime you catch her eyes,
all you want to do is cry -
silence growing.

everytime you catch her eyes,
all you want to do is hide –
heartbeat slowing.

hopes drowning in the hurt.
song of the surf.

silence growing, heartbeat slowing -
we’re just going nowhere.


the music’s changed,
it’s getting louder.
by next weekend,
you’ll be gone.

the summer days
are nearly over now,
the DJ plays
a summer song.

the good-time crowd
is looking older,
their cartoon laugher
seems unkind.

the summer days
are nearly over now,
the summer rave
counts the hours and marks your time.

the summer rays
are streaming from the evening sky.
the summer says,
It’ll work out fine.


they came and went,
their mixtapes and their passion spent.

you stuck around,
and lost yourself in crowded worlds of sound.

you’d kill for that feeling once again,
afloat on the ocean, before the pain.

you pay the price averting eyes
in rooms where people go to die.

you’re scaling the mountains, crossing the plains
afloat on the ocean, avoiding the rain

dare to believe,
dare to believe in silence.
dare to believe,
dare to believe in noise.

you’d kill for that feeling once again,
afloat on the ocean, beyond the pain.

you’d kill for that feeling once again.

Lyrics © Tim Bowness 2008

[top of page]


"Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

In the five years since No-Man’s aptly titled Together We’re Stranger appeared, Steve Wilson has been busy conquering the world with Porcupine Tree.

Thankfully he’s continued working with singer Tim Bowness to produce an album that sits half-way between The Blue Nile’s soul-searching melancholia and the edgy menace of Laughing Stock-era Talk Talk. Bowness’ haunted, breathy croon narrates tales of late-night heartache, rainswept affairs and bitter-sweet long-lost summer days.

Accompanied by surges of orchestral strings, icy ripples of retro-sounding guitar, it’s a soundtrack where darkness lurks below the glacial beauty of the surface. Mixtaped’s pensive air is the hair-rising closer where loss, loneliness and regret have never sounded more appealing or inviting.

Truly sublime."

- Sid Smith, Classic Rock magazine July 2008

The partnership of Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson has continued in its own steady, quietly involving way for at least two decades, but No Man just seem to reach a new peak every time they release an album, and 2008's Schoolyard Ghosts, appearing after a five-year gap, continues that streak. Following the epic textures of Together We're Stranger with a slight return to the more directly melodic sound of Returning Jesus may initially seem retrograde, but in point of fact, Schoolyard Ghosts finds Wilson's ever evolving obsession with sonic possibilities in full effect, as he gently traces everything from string swells and haunting vocal sighs to soft electronic chimes behind the sweet combination of his guitar and Bowness' richly passionate voice.

Beginning with what is by now almost a band trademark -- a portrait of nostalgic reflection, titled "All Sweet Things" -- No Man create one breathtaking song after another, with the steel guitar twang and sweeping orchestrations of "Wherever This Is Light" rivaling Scott Walker for sheer impact. Not everything is restrained beauty by any means -- "Pigeon Drummer" intersperses skeletal guitar and filtered singing with bombastic orchestrations and feedback -- but a song like "Truenorth" practically defines it, at nearly a quarter of an hour the most Together We're Stranger-like, but very much sounding of this album, lushly elegant with cascading strings and woodwinds.

Meanwhile, the concluding "Mixtaped," in title alone another evocation of a time no longer present, gives the duo a chance to create some of their most shadowy work together, the texture of the drumming and looming guitar almost a tip of the hat to Bark Psychosis.

Strange to say, perhaps, but at its considerable best, Schoolyard Ghosts reaches the same level of melodramatic yet personal passion as everything from the ending of Dickens' Great Expectations to Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. No Man are far from completing their striking journey.

- Ned Raggett, All Music Guide (USA)

"After five years, it is about time for a new album of no-man, under the KScope record label.
Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness are back on the road with 'Schoolyard Ghosts', a little treasure that goes deeper and deeper into your soul at the same rhythm than the xylophone that sounds shy but firm in the background of the introductory track All Sweet Things. A collection of little jewels that make difficult to highlight just one, although if I have to choose, I pick Beautiful Songs You Should Know as my favorite one of the eight tracks that will leave you begging for more.

A list of top-calls collaborators such as Theo Travis on the saxophone, Gavin Harrison, Pat Mastelotto, Bruce Kaphan and the Philharmonic Orchestra of London to square an amazing album full of sensibility, feeling and excellent music. A rich sonic palette, with some psychedelic moments like in Pigeon Drummer, painting a melancholic but shiny album that you must not miss in your CD collection. (5/5)"
- Antonio Díaz, FREE! MAGAZINE

"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.

Wilson’s impeccably marshalled arrangements glide through moments of down-strumming folk-like affirmation (Beautiful Songs You Should Know) to devastating blasts of prog-pomp ceremony (Pigeon Drummer) though after the blissful introductory track, All Sweet Things, the spiritual centre of the record is found on Truenorth. Twelve epic minutes of cinematic proportions with an orchestra arranged and conducted by Canterbury Scene supremo, Dave Stewart (ex Hatfield And The North), a skittering flute solo by cult wind player, Theo Travis and kaleidoscopic guitar patterns make this an outstanding achievement on an album already brimming with ideas.

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."

"It's all about balance. A side-project of Porcupine Tree mainman Steven Wilson, No-Man are now on their sixth full-length. And as the title would suggest, an eerie, hair-raising work it is.

However, this is an intriguing album where balance plays the key role. There's the obvious juxtaposition between joy and melancholy, but also between sound and silence, and indeed a '70s prog rock sensibility with a bang-up-to-date sound, both organic and electronic.

Of course, all of this would sound woefully contrived if it weren't for the congruity of all the elements. Like the 'Tree itself, this at times requires patience and attention, but is certainly every bit as rewarding. Maybe even more so. (7/10)"
- Tarik Algin, ROCKSOUND

"I No-Man sono un duo composto da Tim Bowness, già collaboratore con Alice e Nosound, e Steven Wilson, leader dei Porcupine Tree. La formazione, attiva già dal 1987, ha pubblicato cinque album e, a cinque anni dal precedente 'Together We're Stranger', dà ora alle stampe la nuova fatica, per la KScope. Ma cosa mai potrà nascere da un progetto tanto sotterraneo e misconosciuto quanto "di peso"? La risposta è 'Schoolyard Ghosts', misteriosi "fantasmi del cortile" che testimoniano bene lo spirito introspettivo ed esistenzialista del disco.

Scorrendo la lista dei collaboratori, si comprende come i due abbiano voluto fare le cose in grande: Bruce Kaphan (American Music Club, Red House Painters), i batteristi Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson) e Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree, King Crimson), il sassofonista e flautista Theo Travis, la London Session Orchestra diretta da Dave Stewart (Hatfield And The North, Egg). Nomi di rilievo che forniranno un contributo essenziale alle sonorità di 'Schoolyard Ghosts'.

L'avvio è d'una bellezza accecante: i bagliori di All Sweet Things illuminano la notte di una luce tenue e tiepida. Nei suoi quasi sette minuti, l'ouverture spazia da una memorabile melodia, che pare uscita da lied ottocenteschi, a un pop barocco degno del miglior Bacharach; soffice e calda, la voce di Bowness si innesta perfettamente su un climax pianistico ben sorretto da chitarre elettriche e acustiche, basso, tastiere e glockenspiel; al moto costante e perpetuo del pianoforte, si sposano tepori electro-noise che, sulla falsariga della Karma Police dei Radiohead, paiono soffocare la melodia.

Desertica e vagamente morriconiana, nel suo svelarsi tanto arida quanto melanconica, è la successiva Beautiful Songs You Should Know: sull'asse portante di chitarre vagamente neofolk, si vanno ad aggiungere tastiere eteree e un violoncello dalle suggestioni medievali.

Ogni traccia è un mondo a parte. Bastino i primi sessanta secondi dell'apocalittica Pigeon Drummer per comprendere come il cambio di rotta sia netto e inaspettato. Le reminiscenze progressive di Wilson vengono al pettine in un brano complesso e multiforme: inizio tratteggiato da cori paradisiaci, improvvisamente interrotti da un flusso disordinato e rumoroso di percussioni e mellotron lanciati all'impazzata; un vuoto "nulla" che si dimena indemoniato prima di quietarsi lasciando spazio alle tastiere, in un'atmosfera tetra e dagli affanni gotici. La psichedelia di marca Porcupine Tree emerge invece, con toni fiabeschi e distesi, nella successiva Truenorth: tredici minuti nei quali l'orchestra apre a visioni celestiali degne degli ultimi Cinematic Orchestra, yang t'chin, sassofono, harmonium e percussioni si alternano in un brano dai contorni cinematografici.

E se l'eterea Wherever There Is Light conduce nei sottoboschi più reconditi del dream-pop, i sei minuti di Song Of The Surf si sciolgono in un'altra melodia epica e trasognata. Dopo Streaming, sicuramente la traccia meno riuscita del lotto, il lento fluire finale di Mixtaped, unendo flauto, piano elettrico e organo, prefigura una sorta di mondo parallelo, nebbioso e indefinito, in bilico tra lo slowcore di matrice Red House Painters e la drone music meno lugubre.

Travalicando qualsiasi genere e confine, i No-Man sono riusciti a creare un sound evocativo e magico, in cui si amalgamano stilemi sonori disparati - dream-pop, slowcore, ambient, rock, progressive - per un album di indubbio fascino, che sarà ricordato tra le migliori uscite dell'anno in corso. (7.5/10)"
- Alberto Asquini, ONDAROCK

"Neben Porcupine Tree und Blackfield werkelt Multitalent und Ausnahmekönner Steven Wilson seit geraumer Zeit (genau genommen seit 1987!) in der Zweimann-Band No-Man, welches mit dem charismatischen wie gefühlvollen Gesang von Tim Bowness seine perfekte Ergänzung findet.

Ausgestattet mit einem harmonischen Sound wälzt sich 'Schoolyard Ghosts' wie ein Spätsommernachtstraum durch Herz und Seele. Die sparsame Instrumentierung, die nahezu zerbrechliche Melodylines von Bowness und das elegische Flair berauschen die Sinne, laden ein zum Abtauchen in die eigene Gedankenwelt.

Dass die Songs nicht immer verträumt und von Nebelschwaden umrahmt den Hörer einlullen beweist u.a. die ruppige Dynamik von Pigeon Drummer: verzerrte Parts und industrialartige Drumattacken stehen Seite an Seite mit dem zarten Akustikpflänzchen welche mit Streicher, Glockentönen und schwebenden Keyboards aufgepäppelt wurden. Eine weitere Grosstat stellt das überlange Truenorth dar – ein Klavierintro, Sprechgesang und sehr sorgfältige Drum&Bass-Arbeit bauen ein Szenario auf welches ungeheuer intensiv und dennoch nahezu ohne aufbrausende Klänge auf einen wirkt. Orchestral, berührend, aber dennoch nie überladen oder kitschig. Dass die Aufnahmen in diversen Ländern und über einen relativen langen Zeitraum vonstatten gingen merkt man dem Drittwerk aber zu keiner Sekunde an…

Die oft präsenten (aber nie in den Vordergrund gedrängten) Streicherarrangements umhüllen den Kern der Songs wie einen Mantel, lassen den Songs aber dennoch Zeit sich zu entfalten und machen aus Kompositionen wie dem bittersüssen Opener All Sweet Things, dem Faserschmeichler Wherever There Is Light oder dem Nachschattengewächs Song Of The Surf melancholische Snacks welche sicherlich im Herbst eine noch grössere Wirkung erzielen.

Nichtsdestotrotz kann man 'Schoolyard Ghosts' zu jeder Tages - und Jahreszeit am Stück geniessen – gute Musik bleibt schliesslich gute Musik. Aber Vorsicht: weder die auf den ersten Blick unspektakuläre Wirkung der einzelnen Tracks noch die oft vorherrschende Ruhe lassen sich bei einem schlichten Nebenbeihören erfassen. Am besten: Kopfhörer auf & die Regentropfen (wenn vorhanden) am Fensterbrett bei ihrem Treiben zusehen... (4/5)"

"Dass Porcupine Tree-Großhirn Steven Wilson auch ein Projekt namens No-Man am Start hat, war mir noch nicht bewusst. Gemeinsam mit Sänger Tim Bowness kreiert Wilson auf 'Schoolyard Ghosts', dem sechsten Album des Projekts, wunderschönen Ambient/ Art Rock, der über weite Strecken von akustischen Gitarren, Streichern, Klavier und der gefühlvollen Stimme von Bowness bestimmt wird. Musik, die man schnell als langweilig abtun könnte, wenn man sich nicht mit ihr beschäftigt und ihr Raum gibt, zu wirken.

Das liegt mir allerdings fern, denn der leicht melancholische, aber nicht depressive Sound gefällt mir wirklich ausgesprochen gut. Ergreifende Musik, die ich mir auch gut als Filmsoundtrack vorstellen könnte. Sanfte Klaviertöne treffen auf die wunderbar gespielte Akustikgitarre und werden immer wieder von echten Streichern begleitet. Um Langeweile von vorne herein zu vermeiden, gibt es aber auch Flöten, Pedal-Steel-Gitarren, Percussion und atmosphärische Synthies zu hören. Gekrönt wird dieses Fundament von einer wirklich grandiosen Stimme, die sich perfekt in die Musik einfügt.

Bereits der Opener All Sweet Things zeigt, wozu No-Man in der Lage sind. Ein wunderschönes Lied, wie ein wehmütiger Blick zurück. Das 12-minütige, etwas schwermütige Truenorth steht dem in nichts nach, die Streicher erzeugen Gänsehautatmosphäre und die Flöten hypnotisieren. Überraschend ist der Kontakt mit Pigeon Drummer, einem düster-manischen Titel, der mit unerwartet heftigen und noisigen Eruptionen aus dem Schema ausbricht. Streaming tönt gedämpft und modern und das entrückte Mixtaped beschließt dieses Juwel.

Kopfhörermusik, die sich leise, aber intensiv gegen die Hektik unserer Zeit zur Wehr zu setzen versucht und die einem die Möglichkeit gibt, alles um sich herum zu vergessen und sich einfach fallenzulassen. Oder man taucht ganzheitlich in die Musik ein, denn 'Schoolyard Ghosts' gibt es als 2-Disc-Set inklusive 5.1-Mix auf DVD - den ich leider nicht zum Rezensieren vorliegen hatte."

"A new No-Man album makes the blood flow faster. The band that consists of Tim Bowness and Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, etc) plus various session musicians has changed their styles with almost every album in their twenty-one year spanning career, from the trip-hop and techno of their debut 'Loveblows & Lovecries' to the groove and upbeat of the 'Flowermouth' period and the jazz and experimentation of the less popular 'Wild Opera'. No-Man seemed to have found their own sound with 'Returning Jesus', only for it to be exchanged again for the beautiful minimalist approach of 'Together We're Stranger'. So, where would this new album take is? New territory? Well, it sure does, although 'Schoolyard Ghosts' probably lies on the crossroads of the ways to '...Jesus' and '...Stranger'.

All Sweet Things is an instant No-Man classic from the first vocal and piano note. It's one of those beautiful tunes in the vein of Carolina Skeletons, Things Change and All That You Are. The first half of the song consists of the vocals accompanied by piano and acoustic guitar. Later on we're treated to a melancholic ascending and descending scale on piano and glockenspiel and orchestration on keyboards, giving the song that typical haunting No-Man quality. The lack of drums and use of harmony vocals at the end of this songs brings back memories of the 'Together We're Stranger' album. It's a shame the song ends so abruptly with random echoing piano notes.

Beautiful Songs You Should Know takes us back to the 'Returning Jesus' or maybe even 'Flowermouth' album with fretless bass by Porcupine Tree's Colin Edwin and groovy percussion by Rick Edwards. Marianne de Chastelaine adds extra atmosphere on cello. A very accessible song for No-Man standards. The same cannot be said of Pigeon Drummer, which is probably one of my least favourite songs on the album. The reason for this is the use of the very intrusive, industrial sounding drum segments by Pat Mastello (King Crimson, The Flower Kings) that seems completely out of place and destroy an otherwise wonderful spooky tune. Don't let the Arena-like intro with mellotron and the nursery melodies fool you; this is as aggressive as No-Man can get. I could learn to get used to the first time they come in but the second time is such a distorted, noisy cacophony that this is just too much for me. This more experimental side of No-Man is still a matter of taste, and it's not mine.

Initially I had to get used to Truenorth. With the drawn out ambient approach of No-Man a thirteen-minute track does not always seem all that compelling, not even for a prog rocker. Fortunately there's a lot going on in the song and it constantly builds, changes and shifts. As a matter of fact, it can be broken up in three sections of roughly four, five and four minutes. After a haunting repeated piano line is joined by Bowness' typical singing, percussion is added and the lushly arranged string section of the London Session Orchestra (that could also be heard on 'Fear Of A Blank Planet') joins in, creating a majestic atmosphere. Through a cross-over with yang t'chin (a sort of Chinese dulcimer) played by Fabrice Lefebvre and harmonium by Steve Wilson we move into the second section. Here veteran Theo Travis joins in on flute while the song builds up again with acoustic guitar and Tim's vocals. The grandeur grows with more string sections, keyboards and Travis' soprano sax in the background. Just when you think the song is reaching a climax it breaks down to a glockenspiel-like instrument, only to be replaced by the very present electronic beat of part three, played by Andy Broker. Through vocal harmonies and effects we arrive at a more uplifting atmosphere with two sentences of lyrics repeated. Ethereal is perhaps a better word. The orchestra returns for a grand finale until the echoing electronic beat dies out. A wonderful song and one of the highlights of No-Man's long career. Dissecting its inner mysteries for this review has been a real pleasure.

Wherever There Is Light is one of those beautifully heart wrenching songs that No-Man seem to have taken out a patent on, and has added atmosphere through Bruce Kaphan wonderful pedal steel guitar, giving you the impression of a sad tragedy on some Hawaiian beach. Theo Travis is also present with more lovely flute melodies, while strings are this time simulated by Wilson's mellotron. All of this adds up to a very full sound. After the arrangements of the previous seventeen minutes the more minimalist opening of Song Of The Surf with just vocals and electric guitar is a nice breather. Keyboards are adding extra flavour and during the verses Wilson treats us to the high pitched guitar we've heard him play in Porcupine Tree's Halflight. Very subtle percussion is building the song even further and before we know it we have a lushly arranged song again, complete with Christmas bells! After the minimalist 'Together We're Stranger' the duo has clearly taken a different approach with this album, while not returning to the groove of their earlier albums.

Streaming is a strange track. Mainly because of the weird drum loops and programming by Wilson and Andy Brooker. At times it sounds like static, which had me check my computer and CD player several times. The rhythmic pattern of all of this is perhaps a smart experiment, as are the other weird beeps and blips, but for me they are too distracting from the main song. Even more steel guitar with e-bow by Kaphan can not make up for this. Mixtaped sounds just like its name indicates, like a band rehearsal or demo. It has a weird, distracting hiss and echoing guitar in the background that sometimes seem to do its own things, and sounds as if it were playing in an empty parking garage. Porcupine Tree's Gavin Harrison is doing all kind of jazzy drum things across this but all in all it's got me bored out of my skull. Even Theo Travis' flute in this one sounds random and uninspired.

Best tracks: All Sweet Things, Truenorth, Wherever There Is Light. These tracks are more than worth the price of the album alone. You'll get some more fine songs in the form of Beautiful Songs That You Know and Song Of The Surf. It's a shame that their experimental approach has destroyed the potential of Pigeon Drummer, Streaming and Mixtaped, but this is probably also a matter of taste. Even with these letdowns No-Man have delivered another fine album. Maybe not their best, but certainly with some of their best material on it. (8+/10)"
- Ed Sander, DPRP

"For fans of No-Man, it has been a long, patient wait. Five years after the release of the haunting 'Together We're Stranger', I have been balancing between two feelings: fear that Wilson's inspiration will run dry, and hope that this delay will be indicative of something special in preparation. Anyhow, the wait is over and here it is, an album that is pushing things forward in terms of experimentation, an album that is not simply relying on capitalizing on earlier successful recipes, but also an album that cannot fully live up to the great expectations created by its two predecessors ('Returning Jesus' and 'Together We're Stranger').

The first two tracks lie somewhere in between the sweetness and the minimalism of the two previous albums. I would say they are musically closer to 'Together...' but the themes and mood resemble more the '...Jesus' era. All Sweet Things should probably be taught in schools as an example of how a song should build up and be constructed: starts acoustically, builds up with piano and glockenspiel, to climax with Steven singing in the background "when the heartbeat slows... when the silence grows". Simply a masterpiece. Acoustic guitars are prominent as well in the simpler but equally beautiful Beautiful Songs You Should Know, where Wilson is cleverly assisted by Marianne de Chastelaine on cello. For the non-connoisseurs, the warm trademark singing of Tim Bowness is immaculate; for the ones who know what I'm talking about, vocals are up to the usual standards - excellent.

The middle part of Truenorth was the first taste I had of the album (via the band's MySpace), and it slightly reminded me of 'Wild Opera's Pretty Genius due to the strings/flute interplay. I was at the same time pleased but also a bit worried that strings would take over the whole album, as a kind of old and tried way to create atmosphere. Fortunately, this is not the case. The London Session Orchestra beautifully adorns all three parts of the song together with Theo Travis' flute. All parts are genially connected; even the difficulty in the transition from the second, dreamy and melancholic part to the dreamy again but optimistic (and totally different in mood/atmosphere/instrumentation) third part is overcome by a cinematic feel. Even if the integration of the song's closing part to the whole thing seems a bit artificial or even far-stretched, I can only surrender to how well this is done.

Song Of The Surf is proudly carrying the scars of the Talk Talk heritage. April 5th from 'The Colour Of Spring' comes to mind as the song kicks off with a distorted guitar and soft spoken but soulful vocals. Its evolution with gusts of trembling violins, high-pitched guitars and a post-rock feel towards the end leaves the listener breathless. A rather hard song to absorb, but potentially the ultimate moment of this album. The Talk Talk influence re-appears in the spooky Mixtaped which brings a bit of PT's Russia On Ice to mind when I hear the guitar in the beginning. Unlike Ed, I find this an album highlight and also an excellent example of healthy and promising experimentation. It is a very different album closer compared to the honey of All That You Are and the optimistic realism of The Break-Up For Real, featuring very experimental sounds on guitar, witty jazzy drumming from Gavin Harrison and a killer vocal line: "You'd kill for that feeling once again..." In a way Theo Travis' flute effect is similar to the David Sylvian-like effect created by the flugelhorn and sax on Slow It All down out of 'Returning Jesus'.

The most similar material to the band's past work is Whenever There Is Light, which bears a significant resemblance to All That You Are (and Carolina Skeletons), but as is often the rule, the "original" is always more impressive; Streaming is mostly dominated by the drum loops of Andy Booker and brings to mind works of Steve Jansen (an ex-collaborator of No-Man), but could benefit from some more experimentation and mood swings, as they way it stands now, it does sound a bit powerless. And after all, its inclusion between a complete and mature song such as Song Of The Surf and an experimental endeavour such as Mixtaped doesn't make much sense.

I left the controversial Pigeon Drummer for last. I tried, I really tried to understand what the guys tried to do here, but I am still failing. I totally agree with Ed about Pat Mastello's hard and edgy drum part, and I think there's a misplaced experimentation here that simply doesn't come through. Basically, what's really out of place is the sentiment: this is a really cold track, technical when drums are concerned, and desperately dark when the guitar is concerned. (Actually I prefer much more the shorter trip-hop version in the alternates/edit bonus CD that Burning Shed gives away, which by the way does not offer much.)

So let's be clear: were this the debut of a band I didn't know, it would get a higher rating that the 8 I'm giving now. This may be unfair, but given that I'm dealing with No-Man, I will exhaust my strictness and austerity. 'Schoolyard Ghosts' is a very good album with many excellent moments and few wick ones; it gave me and will give me great moments and immense pleasure, as every single No-Man album has had and keeps on doing. But it is not a classic. I would identify it's Achilles heel in the failing to make a healthy use of exploration and exploitation; at times the band overdoes it by revisiting old recipes and at times experimentation goes beyond my personal taste (and tolerance). As a result, things are a bit heterogeneous. Anyhow, I recommend it to all as there are many "beautiful songs you should know" here. Bear in mind as well that it may serve as backbone to the unique tour coming up.

One last point: I take my hat off to the super duo for not selling out and not compromising now that Blackfield and Porcupine Tree are well-known and famous. No-Man will still be the hidden gem even if Tim sings: "I want to play you all the beautiful songs you should know..." (8/10)"
- Christos Ampatzis, DPRP

[top of page]