One Track Mind: No-Man "Break Heaven" (1994)

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All music borrows from something else (even though I wonder if that’s really true when I listen to some of the whack jazz I encounter). The difference between a visionary artist and a hack is how creatively the borrowing occurs.

No-Man is a band that borrows more creatively than most. The duo who make up this band share a common love for all kinds of music and it shows up in this collaboration. Tim Bowness provides the lyrics and lusty vocals and Steve Wilson lays down the melodies, guitars, bass, programming, mixing…essentially, he’s the architect for the band’s rich soundscape. Yes, this is yet another of Wilson’s numerous musical projects.

This UK act is nominally pop music that employs a lot of dance rhythms. That should land a prominent spot on the Something Else Guilty Pleasures category, but there’s something that makes me assign it such a band-handed compliment so reluctantly. That something is the realization that these guys are such masters at crafting that sort of music. They bring in a vast variety of influences: electronica, dance, prog-rock, funk, rock and fold it in a highly melodic, delicately textured wrapper that in spite of all the contemporary markers, much of it still sounds fresh even some fifteen years later.

It was in fact nearly fifteen years ago when No-Man come forth with their proper debut Loveblows & Lovecries. It’s the only one that has violinist Ben Coleman in the line-up and remains one of their best works to this day. Besides Coleman, another distinction is that the backing band is the experimental art-rock band from the ’80’s, Japan, minus frontman David Sylvian. More to the point, Mick Karn (fretless bass), Richard Barbieri (keybaords) and Steve Jansen (drums).

“Break Heaven” is a track off of Loveblows that captured my attention not just because it’s one of their a catchy, danceable tunes, but for a couple of reference points that come from places not associated with club music. That bass line is lifted straight out of Lee Dorsey’s “Yes We Can,” and the bending guitar chord is straight from Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song.”

To be fair to the duo, though, this doesn’t constitute copyright infringement; at the least, they’re hardly the first nor the last to use that formative “Yes We Can” bassline. There’s other notable features on this song, like Wilson’s deliciously nasty guitar wash just before the last chorus, Coleman’s desolate violin fluttering in and out of focus, and of course, Bowness’ breathy vocals.

That’s what’s so appealing about “Break Heaven;” it’s full of good ideas. Even if some of those ideas were originated in the 1970’s.


“One Track Mind” is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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