No Man’s Valley – “Time Travel”

(Photo Credit: Jasper Hesselink)Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Kill the Bees,” “The Wolves Are Coming”

After a successful five track EP in 2014, Dutch rock band No Man’s Valley are back with their first full-length. The album blends psych-rock with a throwback garage sound, into a murky and thundering work that shows its teeth, but values restraint all the same. The band, which consists of Jasper Hesselink on vocals, Christian Keijsers on guitar, Rob Perree on bass, Ruud Van Den Munckhof on organ and Dinand Claessens on drums (with all on backing vocals), provide a brief, tight album that extends the work on their earlier EP’s into broader, more stretched-out territory.

“Time Travel” is a fitting name for this album, for a few different reasons. One reason is that the band’s different sounds throughout the album feel reminiscent of the transitional period between garage rock and metal. Specifically, the album’s first three songs, “The Man Who Would Be King,” “Kill the Bees” and “Sinking the Lifeboat,” sound somewhat like long lost odes to Deep Purple. Deep Purple often mixed heavy guitar and organ to create a dense, tough sound. While they may have been doing it as a reaction to overly melodic rock n’ roll, the guys in No Man’s Valley are focused more on the brooding aspect. Songs with titles like “Sinking the Lifeboat” and “Love or Axe Murder” aren’t exactly subtle about their brooding qualities. The band retains a garage-rock sound throughout “Time Travel,” but one that sounds dragged through the Bauhaus songbook too.

There is a focus on cohesion throughout “Time Travel.” Often, as compared to garage rock, No Man’s Valley is working in unison. Sometimes it’s very harmonious and sometimes it’s not, but rarely is one element of the band intended to be more prominent or important than any others (while most garage rock is focused on volume, rather than full band unison – to each genre their own). The band roars through the title track, and sludges through the big finale, “Goon,” all in unison.

The album is centered around “The Wolves Are Coming,” the most energetic and vocal track, as well as a single the band released in 2014 that has climbed the charts in their native Netherlands. It’s another reason why “Time Travel” might be a fitting name, because the band is both showcasing where they’ve been, and how far they’ve come in those short years. The band give glimpses into their steady past with “Wolves,” and into their potential future with more balanced, psychedelic and heavy tracks. While it might only be a brief outing, “Time Travel” is a very cohesive and diverse record, that shows a band that still knows how to have fun in the studio. “Time Travel” proves that a throwback sound can still sound refreshing in 2016.

-By Andrew McNally

No Man’s Valley – “…And Four Other Songs”

Grade: B+

Key Track: “Happy?”

It’s tempting to call No Man’s Valley a throwback band for today’s music. The Dutch group has the constructs of a typical rock band – vocals, guitars, bass, drums and keyboard. But the band prides themselves on incorporating 60s’ style rhythms and moods into their songs, and there’s elements from many different eras. The songs have a garage rock energy to them, and there is a frequent use of soundclips. When the whole package comes together, it becomes a band taking many different influences to become their own unique sound.

No Man’s Valley hails from the Netherlands, but their feelings are universal. The band sings of common themes like work, not fitting in, and, on the opener and best song “Happy?,” societal pressures to seem happy. “Happy?,” serving as a single of types, is the most 60’s-inspired song on the EP. The guitar-and-synth at the song’s beginning sounds like something the Zombies would have jammed on, if they sang about struggling to be happy instead of an actual happy song. it has a slow-burning energy and has a classic feel to it. “Sleeping on the Job” is a much more ‘recent’ era song – another slow-burner, but one that angrily takes on the tediousness of working (specifically, at an ad agency). Again, the song’s guitar/synth combination is a winner, this time taking on a 70’s feel.

“Moon” is definitely the most experimental song on the release, to the point where it almost doesn’t fit. But it’s a great song. The nearly five-minute song is slower, and has a hefty instrumental midsection played over soundclips, before erupting into a big, synth-heavy climax. Lyrically, the song tackles a feeling of loneliness, with the frequently repeated “The moon is a good listener” speaking volumes. The follow-up, “Black Sheep,” the quickest, shortest and most energetic track. It might be the least interesting one, but it does capture the band’s 60’s inspirations pretty dead-on. Finally, “We Have Lost the Way” serves as a fitting finale. The midtempo song strips away the vocals for a majority (save a soundclip, again tackling the ad agency), for a rousing sendoff, before bringing them back in and ever so slowly fading out.

Listeners could strike many comparisons to No Man’s Valley. One of the most immediate would be Nick Cave. Cave’s music is eclectic, but with a strong personal identity. “…And Four Other Songs” has a consistent tone and energy, combining many styles while staying original. The vocals might be compared to the vocals of Scott Walker – deep, and almost crooning at times. It doesn’t always work on this EP, but it often reinforces the dark and introspective lyrics. No Man’s Valley find originality in established influences, and “…And Four Other Songs” only goes to show that.

“Happy?” is streaming on their bandcamp page, and the EP will be available for free on March 23rd.

-By Andrew McNally