Delayed it may have been but the wait is well worth it.
With the release of ‘The Future Bites’, his sixth solo album in just over a decade, Steven Wilson will hopefully and finally put to rest the calls to reform the dodo dead PORCUPINE TREE.
Not that I wouldn’t be front of the queue for such a reunion, I would… but the confines of that band project wouldn’t have furnished us with a release as compact, assured and ‘muscular’ as TFB.
Focused on the modern twin malaise of consumerism and identity, this album clocking in at around 41 minutes is no prog rock behemoth. In keeping with the overall concept, premiere of ‘Personal Shopper’ aside, every track does what it says on the tin and gets out of your face almost as quickly as it arrives.
Opening with the just over a minute long ‘Unself’ and segueing into complimentary cut ‘Self’, this will immediately confound expectations, and not just with the briefness of running time. A distant acoustic guitar accompanies a typically melancholy Wilson vocal which reminds us “all love is self…”
‘Self’ concentrates on one of the album’s key themes, the impact of influencers and the like via social media. At a time when the new norm are the twins of self-delusion and the self-absorption, this track asks what is left when all there is the ‘Self’? The answer is very little of value.
‘King Ghost’ is one of the tracks released as a single that has caused apoplexy in certain areas of the prog rock fan fraternity. A wonderful piece of modern electronica that pivots around a marvellous vocal performance from Wilson, the comments that accompanied the release at the tail end of last year actually play into another of the TFB’s key themes, consumerism and the entitlement that comes with that in the modern age. This is the standout track on the album, beautifully produced and played.
’12 Things I Forgot’ could easily have come off of the recent album of BLACKFIELD, one of Wilson’s numerous side projects. At first, it appears to be a simple pop song that wouldn’t be out of place over the end titles of a rom-com but the lyric is way more biting and, to this listener, seems to answer some of the critics that slated the album months before it was released.
Just as you think you have a handle on the album a curve ball arrives with ‘Eminent Sleaze’. This is the kind of thing 10CC would have put out back in the day, tongue-in-cheek with loads of knowing nods to other musical genres. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who listens to Wilson and longtime collaborator Tim Bowness’ wonderful ‘Album Years’ podcast. The breadth of their musical knowledge and influences are wide and this draws on many of those, as does the whole album.
‘Man Of The People’ is a straightforward track that has another excellent vocal performance from Wilson underpinning a mostly electronic backing. This highlights the overall lightness of production in the album; it has a wonderfully wide soundstage that really does reward repeat listening on headphones. Wilson and production partner David Kosten should be commended on refusing to go down the everything louder than everything else route, which worked for MOTÖRHEAD but not many other artists.
The album’s debut single ‘Personal Shopper’ caused another shockwave through the prog world… where are the guitar solos? The ‘real’ drumming? This is idiotic, though when you work with someone like Craig Blundell who is a human drum machine; it’s easy to see how they all got confused!
And is that Elton John?!?! Some of the naysayers are still wiping the tears away with the sleeve of their ‘Selling England By The Pound’ tour T-shirts. Having well-known shopaholic Elton read a shopping list is another nod to the humour that permeates this release. The biggest joke is on those that want another album full of ‘Raider II’s… this is the longest cut on the album.
‘Follower’ delivers the drums and guitars demanded by traditionalists, but it’s more garage punk than grandiose prog. There is even a guitar solo (although it’s not ‘Regret No9’) and some 70s style arrangement in the bridge, but think SPARKS rather than CAMEL.
And with ‘Count of Unease’, we reach the end of what in places is a breathless 41 minutes. This has more than a passing nod to the likes of later TALK TALK and the Tim Bowness albums, with brass tones and a vocal that fades off as it arrived in ‘Unself’, in a wash of reverb and melancholy.
The usual Wilson special edition boxset (yes, the irony isn’t lost, no need to over egg it!) adds additional tracks including a wonderful cover of LONELY ROBOT’s ‘In Floral Green’ which originally appeared on the B Side of ‘Eminent Sleaze’. This repays LONELY ROBOT main man John Mitchell’s cover of PORCUPINE TREE’s ‘The Nostalgia Factory’… these should all be looked upon as extras, not as additions to the main album if that makes sense. Most listeners will only consume the core product…
In addition, mention should be made of ‘The Future Bites’ Sessions released on YouTube which has seen Wilson in the studio performing tracks from the album, a couple of earlier songs from his career and a quite wonderful cover of Taylor Swift’s ‘The Last Great American Dynasty’. A truly eclectic artist, it blurs the lines and keeps ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s own Chi Ming Lai happy at the same time! ?
Steven Wilson has once again with ‘The Future Bites’, demonstrated why he is held in such high regard. An artist that has the bottle to plough his own furrow and do his own thing should be commended, especially when it is as well realised as ‘The Future Bites’.
In this instance an example of self-belief we can all get behind. An album that, even this early in 2021, will be vying for top spot in many people’s end of the year lists come December.
Cardiff St David’s Hall (8th September), Sheffield City Hall (9th September), Manchester O2 Apollo (11th September), Glasgow Concert Hall (12th September), Birmingham Symphony Hall (13th September), Portsmouth Guildhall (15th September) London Hammersmith Apollo (16th September), Nottingham Royal Concert Hall (17th September)
“It’s such a strange day, in such a lonely way” sang NEW ORDER on ‘Truth’ in 1981.
The coronavirus crisis of 2020 put the entire live music industry into limbo as concerts were postponed and tours rescheduled.
The situation was affecting everyone with several musicians like Bernard Sumner, Andy McCluskey, John Taylor and Sarah Nixey publicly stating that they had contracted the virus. Even when all pupils returned to schools in the Autumn, there was a ban on indoor singing in English classrooms. It was an indication that out of all professional fields, the arts was going suffer the most.
To make up for the absence of live shows, online streamed events become popular. Two of the best live online gigs were by Swedish veterans LUSTANS LAKEJER from the KB in Malmö and Sinomatic techno-rockers STOLEN with Lockdown Live From Chengdu. Not strictly a lockdown show but available for all to view on SVT was a magnificent live presentation of KITE at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm recorded in late 2019 combining synthesizers, orchestra and choir, proving again why Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg are the best electronic duo in Europe.
Concluding his ‘Songs: From the Lemon Tree’ series, Bon Harris of NITZER EBB presented a wonderful set of four electonic cover versions including songs made famous by Joan Armatrading, Connie Francis and Diana Ross. Meanwhile among independent musicians, Dubliner CIRCUIT3 led the way with an innovative multi-camera effected approach to his home studio presentation and Karin My performed al fresco in a forest near Gothenburg.
Taking the initiative, ERASURE did a delightful virtual album launch party for their new album ‘The Neon’ on Facebook with Vince Clarke in New York and Andy Bell in London, talking about everything from shopping to classic synthpop tunes.
Other streamed forms of entertainment came via podcasts and among the best was ‘The Album Years’ presented by Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness. Their knowledgeable and forthright views on selected years in music were both informative and amusing. It was interesting to note that at the end of the 1976 episode, the pair nominated ‘Oxygène’ by Jean-Michel Jarre as the most important album of that year while for 1979, it was ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Gary Numan.
Many artists who had scheduled releases in 2020 went through with them, although in some cases, there were the inevitable delays to physical product. But a few notable acts couldn’t help but abuse the situation, notably a certain combo from Basildon.
There were already “quality control issues” with the lavish ‘MODE’ 18 CD boxed set, but there was uproar even among the most hardcore Devotees with the ‘Spirits In The Forest’ release. The cardboard packaging was reported to be flimsy and prone to dents, while there was continuity errors galore as Dave Gahan rather cluelessly and selfishly wore different coloured outfits over the two nights in Berlin that the live footage was filmed under the direction of Anton Corbijn.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was an Anton Corbijn official illustrated history of DEPECHE MODE entitled ‘DM AC’ in the form of a coffee table photo book published by Taschen which retailed at €750; even though it was signed by Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher, the price tag was a mightily steep. The increasingly ironic words of “The grabbing hands grab all they can…” from ‘Everything Counts’ were not lost on people, who are people, after all!
But Andy Fletcher did provide the most amusing and spot-on quote of the year; during DEPECHE MODE’s acceptance speech into that dinosaur institution The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, when Dave Gahan remarked to his bandmates that “I dunno what the hell I would have been doing if I didn’t find music to be quite honest…”, the banana eating handclapper dryly retorted “YOU’D HAVE BEEN STILL STEALING CARS DAVE!”
There were lots of great albums released in 2020 and Berlin appeared to be at the creative centre of them.
There was ‘LP II’ from LINEA ASPERA who made a welcome return after eight years in hiatus and the playful debut by ULTRAFLEX, a collaborative offering from Berlin-based Nordic artists SPECIAL-K and FARAO which was “an ode to exercise, loaded with sex metaphors badly disguised as sports descriptions” .
The DDR born Jennifer Touch told her story with ‘Behind The Wall’ and resident New Yorker DISCOVERY ZONE was on ‘Remote Control’, while Lithuania’s top pop singer Alanas Chosnau made ‘Children of Nature’, his first album in English with Mark Reeder, who himself has lived in the former walled city since 1978; their collected experiences from both sides of the Iron Curtain made for a great record with the political statement of ‘Heavy Rainfall’ being one of the best songs of 2020.
Synth-builder and artist Finlay Shakespeare presented the superb angst ridden long player ‘Solemnities’ with its opener ‘Occupation’ tackling the social injustice of unemployment. A most frightening future was captured in musical form by New York-resident Zachery Allan Starkey who saw his home become a ‘Fear City’, while WRANGLER got themselves into ‘A Situation’.
SPARKS discussed ‘The Existential Threat’ and ‘One For The Ages’ while pleading ‘Please Don’t F*ck Up My World’ on their eclectic 25th album ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’, just as NIGHT CLUB reflected what many were thinking on ‘Die Die Lullaby’ with ‘Miss Negativity’ looking to ‘Die In The Disco’ while riding the ‘Misery Go Round’.
ASSEMBLAGE 23 chose to ‘Mourn’ with one of its highlights ‘Confession’ illustrating what DEPECHE MODE could still be capable of, if they could still be bothered.
But it was not all doom and gloom musically in 2020. With the title ‘Pop Gossip’, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP did not need to do much explaining about the ethos of their second album and drum ‘n’ synth girl GEORGIA was happily ‘Seeking Thrills’.
Veterans returned and 34 years after their debut ‘Windows’, WHITE DOOR teamed up with the comparative youngster Johan Baeckström for ‘The Great Awakening’, while CODE made a surprise return with their second album ‘Ghost Ship’ after an absence 25 years.
‘The Secret Lives’ of German duo Zeus B Held and Mani Neumeier illustrated that septuagenarians just want to have fun. Along with Gina Kikoine, Zeus B Held was also awarded with Der Holger Czukay Preis für Popmusik der Stadt Köln in recognition of their pioneering work as GINA X PERFORMANCE whose ‘No GDM’ was a staple at The Blitz Club in Rusty Egan’s DJ sets.
Incidentally, Rusty Egan announced that Zaine Griff would be joining him with Numan cohorts Chris Payne and David Brooks in a live presentation of VISAGE material, although the announced dates were postponed, pending rescheduling for 2021.
Swiss trailblazers YELLO were on ‘Point’ and continuing their occasional creative collaboration with Chinese songstress Fifi Rong, while one time YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA collaborator Hideki Matsutake returned as LOGIC SYSTEM and released a new long player ‘Technasma’, his project’s first for 18 years.
It was four decades since John Foxx’s ‘Metamatic’ and Gary Numan’s ‘Telekon’, with the man born Gary Webb publishing ‘(R)evolution’, a new autobiography to supersede 1997’s ‘Praying To The Aliens’. Meanwhile, the former Dennis Leigh teamed up with former ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon plus his regular Maths collaborators Benge and Hannah Peel for the blistering art rock statement of ‘Howl’ as well as finally issuing his book of short stories ‘The Quiet Man’.
Back in 1980, it was not unusual for bands to release two albums in a calendar year as OMD did with their self-titled debut and ‘Organisation’, or JAPAN did with ‘Quiet Life’ and ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’.
It appeared to be a tradition that BLANCMANGE were adopting as Neil Arthur delivered the acclaimed ‘Mindset’ and an enjoyable outtakes collection ‘Waiting Room (Volume 1)’.
PET SHOP BOYS and CERRONE proved they still liked to dance to disco because they don’t like rock, but the year’s biggest surprise came with THE SMASHING PUMPKINS whose single ‘Cyr’ crossed the templates of classic DEPECHE MODE with DURAN DURAN.
Interestingly, Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS and Michael Rother of NEU! used sketches recorded many moons ago to inspire their 2020 solo creations, proving that if something is a good idea, it will still make sense years later. Veteran Tonmeister Gareth Jones released his debut solo album ‘ELECTROGENETIC’ having first come to prominence as the studio engineer on ‘Metamatic’ back in 1980, but Jah Wobble was as prolific as ever, issuing his ninth album in four years, as well as a run of download singles over lockdown.
ANI GLASS had her debut long player ‘Mirores’ shortlisted for Welsh Music Prize and OMD remixed her song ‘Ynys Araul’ along the way, while SARAH P. was ‘Plotting Revolutions’. NINA and a returning ANNIE vied to be the Queen Of Synthwave with their respective albums ‘Synthian’ and ‘Dark Hearts’, although Canadian synth songstress DANA JEAN PHOENIX presented her most complete and consistent body of work yet in ‘Megawave’, a joint album with POWERNERD.
RADIO WOLF & PARALLELS contributed to the soundtrack of the film ‘Proximity’ released on Lakeshore Records and from the same label, KID MOXIE made her first contribution to the movie world with the score to ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need To Have A Serious Talk’ that also featured a stark cover of ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Big In Japan’. Meanwhile gothwavers VANDAL MOON made their most electronic album yet in ‘Black Kiss’ and POLYCHROME got in on the kissing act too with their new single ‘Starts With A Kiss’.
It would be fair to say in recent times that the most interesting and best realised electronic pop has come from outside of the UK; the likes of TWICE A MAN explored the darker side of life, although TRAIN TO SPAIN used the dancefloor as their mode of expression, 808 DOT POP developed on the robopop of parent band METROLAND and ZIMBRU preferred disco art pop.
In Scandinavia, there was the welcome return of UNIFY SEPARATE (formally US) and HILTIPOP aka Magnus Johansson of ALISON who finally released some music in his own right; once he started, he didn’t stop with 9 releases and counting in 2020! APOPTYGMA BERZERK released ‘Nein Danke!’, their self-proclaimed return to “New Wave Synthpop” and out of that set-up sprang the very promising PISTON DAMP.
Within the PAGE camp, Eddie Bengtsson continued his Numan fixation on the ‘Under Mitt Skinn’ EP although his musical partner Marina Schiptjenko teamed up with LUSTANS LAKEJER bassist Julian Brandt to ride the Synth Riviera for a delightful second helping of their electro crooner concept cheekily titled ‘For Beautiful People Only’.
Over in Germany, U96 teamed up Wolfgang Flür while RENARD, the solo vehicle of Markus Reinhardt from WOLFSHEIM teamed with Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE and Sarah Blackwood of DUBSTAR. DUBSTAR themselves released a striking corona crisis statement entitled ‘Hygiene Strip’ which saw reconfigured duo reunited with producer Stephen Hague. Meanwhile another poignant song on the topic ‘Small World’ came from SNS SENSATION, the new project by Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK. In lockdown, TINY MAGNETIC PETS recorded an entire album which they called ‘Blue Wave’.
Of course, 2020 was not full of joy, even without the pandemic, as the music world sadly lost Florian Schneider, Gabi Delgado-Lopez, Chris Huggett, Andrew Weatherall, Matthew Seligman, Dave Greenfield, Rupert Hine, Tom Wolgers, Harold Budd and Ennio Morricone.
An introspective tone was reflected the music of female fronted acts such as and ZANIAS, PURITY RING, WE ARE REPLICA, KALEIDA, LASTLINGS, NEW SPELL, WITCH OF THE VALE, REIN, BLACK NAIL CABARET, GLÜME, GEISTE THE FRIXION, FEMMEPOP and SCINTII. However, countering this, the optimism of RIDER, ROXI DRIVE and NEW RO presented a much brighter, hopeful take on life and the future.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrated 10 years as a platform and affirming the site’s intuition about synth talent in anticipation of them achieving greater things, SOFTWAVE opened for OMD on the Scandinavia leg of their ‘Souvenir’ tour. The Danish duo became the sixth act which the site had written about to have become part of a tradition that has included VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND and TINY MAGNETIC PETS.
On a more cheerful note, S.P.O.C.K beamed down to Slimelight in London before lockdown for their first British live performance in 17 years. Meanwhile on the same night, LAU NAU and VILE ELECTRODES did modular sets at Cecil Sharp House, the spiritual home of English traditional music.
At that event, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK took delight in curating a DJ set comprising of John Cage’s 4’33” in variations by DEPECHE MODE, GOLDFRAPP, ERASURE, NEW ORDER and THE NORMAL from Mute’s Stumm433 boxed set. This defiant act of silence even caused a curious Jonathan Barnbrook to raise an eyebrow, this from the man who designed the artwork with the white square on David Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’ 😉
The final live event that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK attended before the March lockdown was an informative lecture at Queen Mary University in London presented by noted cultural scholar Dr Uwe Schütte, in support of his book ‘KRAFTWERK Future Music From Germany’.
Also attending was Rusty Egan who held court at the reception afterwards by having a debate with another musician about the state of UK synth music. He then loudly beckoned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK over and mentioned how the site was only interested acts that scored “9 out of 10” before admitting that a number of acts he supported only scored “6 out of 10”, with his reasoning being that if acts aren’t supported, then there will be no synth acts existing at all. After a decade in existence, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK remains proud that it is still extremely selective.
In 2020, the notion of reviews being needed to achieve a promotional profile underwent an existential crisis among media platforms. With streaming now being the main method of music consumption, why would anyone want to read a blog for an opinion about an album when they can just hit ‘play’ and hear the thing for themselves on Spotify, Amazon, Tidal or Bandcamp?
The sound of classic synthpop does live on happily in today’s mainstream via singles by THE WEEKND, DUA LIPA and even STEPS! In that respect, the trailblazing kings and queens of Synth Britannia from four decades ago did their job rather well.
From SUGABABES mashing-up ‘Are Friends Electric?’ for ‘Freak Like Me’ in 2002 to ‘Blinding Lights’ borrowing a bit of A-HA in 2020, the sound of synth is still strong.
It is up to any potential successors to live up to that high standard of Synth Britannia, which was as much down to the quality of the songwriting, as much as it was to do with the sound of the synthesizer. It is a fact that many overlook and if aspiring musicians could pay more attention to the song, instead of making the synthesizer the excuse for the song, then classic electronic pop music may still be around for a little longer and continue to evolve.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2020
“People” sang Jim Morrison, “Are Strange” and none more so than the dedicated music fan. This has been shown in the past couple of weeks with the backlash against Steven Wilson with the new single ‘King Ghost’.
This has been rumbling on for a while, in fact since ‘Permanating’ from 2017’s ‘To The Bone’, and has percolated via recent singles ‘Personal Shopper’ and ‘Eminent Sleaze’ to the fury unleashed in certain quarters against this latest release online. And the thing is, the pitchfork wielding mob who want to torch the new album ‘The Future Bites’ before it is released are wrong.
“Where are the guitars?” they moan… “It needs real drums” they cry through gnashing teeth… “Isn’t what I signed up for”, they wail as they wrap themselves in their ‘Tales of Topographic Oceans’ blanket. The answer to this and the pages and pages of other comments is, you haven’t been paying attention.
Despite being the leader of PORCUPINE TREE all these tears, Wilson has never hidden his love of pop music, this is made all the more clear in his excellent podcast ‘The Album Years’ which he hosts with NO-MAN band mate Tim Bowness. The pointers were there on his last release, especially with the aforementioned ‘Permanating’ and, more pertinently, the brooding electronica of ‘Song of I’.
‘King Ghost’ is a natural progression, something which a recognised progressive performer should always be looking to do. The track is the sound of the artist taking himself and by extension the listener in new directions. Wilson has stated it may be one of the best things he has ever done and I have to agree.
One comment on a recent YouTube post said “…it could never be as emotional as played by analog instruments” before suggesting adding a guitar solo or fretless bass. And here we have the crux of the issue taken by some listeners; the track is synthetic so must be lesser than a full band production.
Again these folk haven’t been listening. This is by a mile the best single of the year especially when married to the stunning Jess Cope video that accompanies the release.
I have been listening with interest and a fair bit of excitement, so can’t wait until the turn of the year to hear what the delayed full album has in store, with or without a full drum kit. The tasters we have had so far promise, it will be worth the wait.
‘King Ghost’ is from the album ‘The Future Bites’ released by SW Records / Caroline Records on 29th January 2021 in limited edition deluxe boxset, CD, red or black vinyl LP, cassette, Blu-ray and digital formats, pre-order from https://store.thefuturebites.com/
The current global pandemic has highlighted across the board differences between many modern recording artists.
For some this has meant not sticking their head above the parapet and beyond what was already on the release schedule, they haven’t done anything to support their fan base through lockdowns and social distancing.
Others have given swathes of material away on platforms like YouTube in the form of remastered concert footage, acoustic lockdown sessions and unexpected collaborations.
This has been the approach of the likes of PINK FLOYD and GENESIS who have also no doubt picked up a few more sales along the way. A third group have used the lockdown to produce. From this, we will have a new CABARET VOLTAIRE release by year end which irrespective of the circumstances is a good thing and, amazing as it may seem, we have more from the non-stop musical mind of Tim Bowness.
With ‘Late Night Laments’, we are presented with what is his second solo album in just over a year. This is in conjunction with the release of the excellent NO-MAN album ‘Love You To Bits’ at the tail end of last year, running the eclectic Burning Shed AND producing hours and hours of entertaining podcast material with bandmate and fellow music polymath Steven Wilson, who hasn’t been sitting at home himself watching re-runs of ‘The Professionals’ on Netflix during this time.
And it’s ‘The Album Years’ podcast that points to the content of ‘…Laments’. Anyone who has listened will be taken by the variety and depth of both Bowness and Wilson’s influences and many of them are on show here.
If you are coming to this solo work from the ‘Love You To Bits’ album, be aware this is more like the organic work on NO-MAN releases such as ‘Schoolyard Ghosts’ than the driving electronica of last year’s gem. Not that this should put you off as there is much to love with this album.
Performed and co-produced alongside long-time collaborator Brian Hulse, opener ‘Northern Rain’ sets out the stall clearly.
This work wears its influences on its sleeve and when those influences are the likes of THE BLUE NILE, that isn’t a bad thing. The atmosphere created by the interplay between electronic instrumentation and the more traditional vibraphone and acoustic drums counterpoint the main reason you should give this album “ear time” and that is Bowness’s vocals.
Simply put, he is in possession of one of the best voices in the UK at the moment. It foregoes the modern bombast of gymnastics and over production and goes down the more downbeat route favoured by the likes of the late Mark Hollis (TALK TALK are another clear influence here). What this means is we have a set of performances that are dripping with intimacy and allow the frequently dark lyrics to come through. This is a voice you listen to.
The laidback ‘I’m Better Now’ is as darker as anything you would get from a modern DEPECHE MODE album and musically more rounded too. Next track ‘Darkline’ is a personal highlight. Again Bowness delivers a staggeringly effective vocal against instrumentation that features a keyboard solo from Richard Barbieri who also provides additional synths on this and later cut ‘The Last Gateway’.
What is notable is none of the tracks outstay their welcome, which from someone that is associated with the dreaded Prog word is commendable. There are progressive elements on many of the cuts here, but they are restrained so as not to frighten the horses.
The vocal arrangement on ‘The Hitman That Missed’ tips the hat to Bowness favourite Donovan. ‘Never a Place’ is another highlight, building, as many Bowness songs do, on a repeating and falling motif this features more of that most rock and roll instrument, the vibraphone played by Tom Atherton. His work across the album has brought a new and unexpected appreciation of the instrument only previously associated with a certain Mr Hitler and his guest appearance with the BONZO DOG DOO DAH BAND. ‘Hidden Life’ is infused with the same sadness that made the best ASSOCIATES tracks so memorable and features some of the best playing on the album.
Closer ‘One Last Call’ is equal to anything Bowness has released either solo or across his collaborative work. The sparse instrumentation allows everything to breathe and highlights the excellence of the production from Bowness and Hulse and the mastering work of Calum Malcolm. It’s no surprise that Steven Wilson is involved on mixing duties which he probably fitted in between the forthcoming ‘Vienna’ remaster and his lunchtime Pot Noodle…
This is an album in the old school sense of the word. It is crafted by musicians and following Bowness’ own mantra, doesn’t go on longer than is required to get the point across. Though billed as a late night release, this is one that deserves to be heard irrespective of the time of day. It is heartening we still have artists like Tim Bowness, more power to his elbow.
Oh and if you love music do yourself a favour and sub to ‘The Album Years’; as a grumpy old man, it’s the most fun you can have listening to grumpy old men out with Waldorf and Statler.
The mirrorball on the sleeve should give a clue to the content within, but this is not fluff piece but a work of real depth and substance.
That said, anyone who only know the band from their later output may need to triple check the credits to ensure this is the same team that brought us tracks like ‘Truenorth’. From the opening portentous drone to the 808 style percussion and arpeggios running counter to the main synthetic melody line, it’s clear this is a very different beast from the last album ‘Schoolyard Ghosts’.
One thing that has remained from that release is Tim Bowness’s melancholic vocal. Possessing one of the most distinctive voices in modern music. the delivery throughout the album is spot on. Though split into 5 sections each, ‘Love You To Bits’ and ‘Love You To Pieces’ could be viewed as 2 long form remixes which utilise differing instrumentation to add light and shade of tone to the music.
One thing that is clear is the influence of Bruno Ellingham who has been tasked with the final mix is writ large on this release. The same sparkle he gave the likes GOLDFRAPP is obvious with the separation around the instruments giving the overall pieces room to breathe.
The opening section of ‘Love You To Bits’ gets straight to the point, announcing itself as an electronic work with electronic percussion and the aforementioned vocal front and centre. Real drums explode in around halfway through and kick the piece up a gear. The first breakdown comes after the vocals exhort that they ‘Love You’ repeatedly and a short linking piece has Bowness harmonising with himself over the sequenced bass from the first section.
A funky guitar loop heralds a more down-the-line band performance which once again melds with the open sequence before part 4 goes on an extended instrumental break with effected guitar being underpinned by more live drums and that simple but earworm-y sequence. There by this time can be no mistaking this for anything else but a pop album, but one which rewards repeated listening as although simple on the surface there are layers of instrumentation that are pulled out with each play.
This is a Steven Wilson collaboration so a sonic surprise shouldn’t come as, well a surprise. Here it’s from of the closing section of ‘Love You To Bits’ which at the end, having revisited the themes and motifs of the previous section closes with a plaintiff brass section playing out like something from ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ than Studio 54
The journey is at this point only half complete as the second half of the album, ‘Love You To Pieces’ opens with Bowness showing again how his voice is more than capable of carrying a song with the simplest of instrumentation to somewhere it really has no right to go. He really does possess one of the most unique tones in modern music, up there with the likes of Paul Buchanan of THE BLUE NILE in its ability to wrench at the heart without you really knowing why.
The interplay between synthetic tones and more organic instrumentation gets swept away in the next section as a driving synth bass carries a vocoded vocal forward, building into a jazzy section of effected electric piano which should give comfort to anyone that has seen Steven Wilson live recently and the playing of Adam Holzman, for it is he…
Overall the second half of the album appears to more contemplative and this is no bad thing giving balance to the ‘dancier’ opening ‘Bits’ section. All too quick, for this listener at least, it’s over with the final part coming across as something you’d here in a piano bar at 3am.
“Time was we mattered…” sighs Bowness at the close of the track. On this showing, NO-MAN still do matter and in spades. This is no misguided sidestep, the band where making music like this 25 plus years ago. In fact the bones of the album stem from demos that old.
As known progressive artists, both Wilson and Bowness have taken their individual brands of modern music in numerous different directions. This is another example of that and one expected to be included in many top 20 lists at the end of the year. A recommended release.
‘Love You To Bits’ is released by Caroline International in CD, vinyl LP, cassette and digital formats