No Man’s Valley are “a band of brothers strongly forged through their love of music”, consisting of five chaps hailing from the far distant present, more specifically, Horst in the Netherlands. To go through them alphabetical order, you’ve got Christian on guitar, Dinand on the drums, Jasper on vocals, Rob on bass and finally Ruud on the keyboard. Unfortunately, my attempts at discovering what specific keyboard Ruud uses were in vain, but it’s not like I wasn’t trying. This E.P. has taught me a few things, and one of them is a newfound appreciation for lightly distorted keyboards. Where have they been all my life? This band even properly capitalise their song titles, so that’s a few brownie points before I even get critical on this five-piece.
It’s also important to note that everyone on this mini-album does backing vocals. Except for Jasper, given that he’s too busy doing lead vocals. Although I am surprised that they didn’t get their audio engineer in to belt out a few notes. One of the first impressions you get of this E.P. is the haunting and harrowing, yet still remarkably beautiful vocals.
The brief opener, ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ is a prime example of this. Remember how when AM came out, everyone raved about ‘Do I Wanna Know?’, but more specifically its slow, plodding pace? Mate, that’s got nothing on this track. For a second I thought my laptop was about to have a complete breakdown, but alas, this is the pace of the song. I would try and work out its tempo, but unfortunately, I’ve got a very busy schedule next week. Blissful harmonies and a slight dashing of guitar slides run throughout this slow, but powerful number.
My only quarrels with some of these tracks are the seemingly minimalist lyrics. Of course, these lads may very well have composed these words in their second language, so props to them still: I can’t imagine myself trying to string together some rhyming words with my basic grasp of GCSE French. My only other concern is that you need to be patient with these tunes: They’re not your traditional indie bangers that last two and half minutes, this is the world of a rather niche sub-genre, best defined as psychedelic blues-infused organ wave rock. As such, these tunes range from the methodical and dark, to upbeat and toe-tappingly engaging.
These guys have been releasing material for five years now, and it shows. While their lyrics may be, a tad restricted at times, (the opener consists of a single line, “Oh the man who’d be king, where did it go wrong?”, repeated), there’s no denying the vast array of sounds and emotions which this band can provoke within a small, seven-track E.P. And keep in mind, this album is like a fine wine, (not that I’d know), as it progresses, it gets better and better. Do yourself a favour and sit down with this album and listen to it all the way through, from start to finish.
‘Kill the Bees’ goes from unassuming beginnings into a flurry of wailing vocals, potent keys, and despair. It’s a track which requires multiple sessions to fully appreciate. Gradually heightening until the three-minute mark, the guitar work in the outro oddly reminded me of Muse’s debut album.
‘Love or Axe Murder’ is one of my favourites; it’s an immediately daunting track, which hits you with a basic but heavy, sinister riff. The title suits the track perfectly, making it one of the more accessible tracks on the album. This tune epitomises the band’s strengths; revolving vocals hold you in place, building up to a masterful outro of utter melancholic noise.
‘The Wolves Are Coming’ is arguably the most inoffensive track of the lot. A clean, bouncing and almost playful introduction lures you in, striking a contrast between the upbeat rhythm and the comparatively darker lyrics. They performed a feat here, stringing together a memorable, catchy tune with minimal lyrics. Lyrics which still give the band an opportunity to display their vocal cohesion.
‘Man Who Walked Backwards’ is where things really start to pick up. If you’re a fan of traditional American-focused rock, and bands like Rival Sons, you’ll love this belter. In an absolute opposite from the earlier tunes, the lyrics in the fifth song are gripping, telling the story of a man who perceives the world differently, and seemingly gives up. The heaviness of the track isn’t lost however, as perfectly placed stops in the chorus bring some perspective back to an E.P. which risked getting lost in its own array of sounds.
Kicking off with a delightfully dirty guitar tone, ‘Time Travel’ introduces you to the most traditional tune on the album with some palm-muting and lovely effects. You’re met with a guitar sound which wouldn’t sound out of place on an eighties glam-rock album. This is a perfect combination of well-conceived lyrics and an outright banging pace. The outro strikes a chord with Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘Go with the Flow’.
The E.P. ends with my personal favourite. It may not be the most upbeat or most accessible track, but if you give it time, it’s a track worthy of its place on the album. The title ‘Goon’ misleads you greatly. Having listened to the album chronologically, I was expecting a punk-like belter to finish the album, but the reality couldn’t be further from my expectations. ‘Goon’ is a grand, sweeping ballad which is the culmination of five years of hard work. Restrained guitars are put aside in favour of dramatic, layered vocals in a six-minute-plus song which gives you a brief interlude in the middle.
I was initially concerned that the album has no cohesive themes or lyrical similarities between its tracks; given that the is album named Time Travel, I’d only heard one song mentioning the concept. These worries were dashed upon hearing the final track. A sombre lecture on the ravages of time, ‘Goon’ warns you of its merciless nature, of its omnipresence, and that it will leave you with nothing. Who knew that looking at a clock would be such a daunting challenge after hearing this tune? ‘Goon’ is the least popular song on the E.P., at least according to SoundCloud, and it’s a crying shame. It epitomises everything that the band is about.
I was struggling to come to a snappy judgement on the band, but thankfully, they’ve already summed themselves up perfectly: They’re musical shapeshifters. Dark, brooding and melancholic at times, yet never afraid of grand gestures. Good job, lads.
If you’d like to witness the group and their lovely artwork first-hand, they’re next playing Nikspack Festival in the Netherlands, but hopefully they’ll come across the Channel soon.
In the meantime, they’ve got a peculiar and uncanny album on SoundCloud.
It’s a compilation of their own tunes, but reworked as lullabies.
Not sure how kids would rate them, but I’ll let someone else find that out.