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No-Man - Together We're Stranger CD (album) cover

TOGETHER WE'RE STRANGER

No-Man

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

4.14 | 197 ratings

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russellk
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Heartbreakingly sensational. NO-MAN finally put music and lyrics together to perfectly sum up the end of a relationship using some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard. Why on earth isn't this band more widely known?

So how good is this? I'm a huge PORCUPINE TREE fan, but this is better than anything in the PT catalogue. I'm a fan of ambient music, and this ranks as my favourite album in that broad genre. And I've loved PINK FLOYD since I was a young teen, and I have no hesitation in saying this is right up there with WISH YOU WERE HERE.

But before I go any further, a warning. This album has none of the immediacy of a PORCUPINE TREE album. There's very little that impresses itself on you at first listen. Ambient music is about the listener actively interacting with the music: you have to put something in. You can't sit back and expect the music to work wonders, and you most certainly can't put it on as background. It requires your active attention.

The first four tracks form an indivisible ambient suite nearly half an hour long. The opener is comparable to 'Flowermouth's 'Angel Caught in the Beauty Trap'. A drill-like opening gives way to an impossibly dreamy soundscape. BOWNESS's voice is more direct here than I've heard in nearly a decade: his delivery is still breathy and matter-of-fact, but there's a tautness speaking of suppressed emotion. I can't help thinking of TALK TALK as this track unfolds, of 'Spirit of Eden'. 'All The Blue Changes' - well, even thinking about it brings a chill. Organ, chattering synth loops and the first percussion on the album lead into BOWNESS's best vocal performance on top of a slow build into cathartic beauty, which bursts into a PORCUPINE TREE-like harmonised chorus (a la 'Trains' or 'Prodigal'): 'The city in a hundred ways/It wouldn't let you stay.' Reminiscent of PINK FLOYD at their best, a modern and more desperate 'Welcome to the Machine', perhaps, or something from Side 2 of 'The Wall', filled with angst and the prospect of dissolution. Lush, addictive, achingly beautiful and hurtful. The third track, titled after the lyrics in the second track (a NO-MAN trick) is a clarinet-led instrumental, a short sounscape leading to 'Things I Want To Tell You', an exercise in slow desperation: 'I'm what you left behind/I'm fading from your mind'. Anyone who has experienced heartache and loss has finally found here a sophisticated voice well beyond the banality of pop sentiments.

'Photographs in Black and White' is a ten-minute minimalist triumph. We are warned: 'You talk so fast/To stop yourself from thinking/You move so fast/So you'll never see you're sinking'. Instead, in the midst of present sorrow, take the time to remember, to reflect on those who loved us. This track has the most gorgeous progression, with ROGER ENO playing harmonium to great effect. A five-minute coda sends chills down the spine: WILSON brings everything he has to the table, all the years of space-rock compositions coming together.

'Back When You Were Beautiful' is another song of loss: 'Friendship comes/But it mostly goes'. This is a slow ballad, closer to PORCUPINE TREE than NO-MAN. Banjo and all, this is recognisably 'In Absentia' territory married with 'The Sky Moves Sideways'. And the album finishes on a plaintive note with 'The Break-Up For Real', another PT-style track, the second on the album to have the increasingly familiar harmonised chorus hook. On my iTunes playlist this last track is replaced with the drum mix version from the eponymous single, and I follow it with '(bluecoda)', an instrumental from the same single that reintroduces the album's opening theme. Five stars either way.

You have to be in the mood for this, and you have to have the time. Some day you will, so get this and be prepared.

russellk | 5/5 |

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