For their noughties output they’ve taken aim somewhere between post rock and singer songwriter, with inspiration coming from latter period Talk Talk, The Blue Nile and Sigur Ros; it’s no surprise that Schoolyard Ghosts is fairly moody and follows nicely on from both 2003’s Together We’re Stranger and its semi-jazz predecessor Returning Jesus. Like the latter it's accomplished and for the most part cohesive, considering the bands many side projects.
The first few: 'All Sweet Things' traverses ballads for an English rainy day in much the same way as 'Back When You Were Beautiful' did on Stranger ie; it’s pleasant but familiar territory. The second acoustic-led 'Beautiful Songs You Should Know' shows Bowness has lost none of his creative skill in the art of lyrical wordplay "I want to play you all the beautiful songs you should know / I want to save you with the beautiful songs we can grow" and the third, a mad scientist's hybrid blending the kind of music box Tim Burton or Danny Elfman would possess with the dark tones of say Smashing Pumpkins, is best skipped.
From 'Truenorth' onwards Schoolyard Ghosts gets it act together and is a much better proposition. 'Truenorth' commences its majestic twelve minute hike across your room with a tone poem set against interlinking piano lines that fade like beacons before a renewed signal begins. Its sophomore part bares the song, where a battle march drum, strings and Theo Travis' flute reinforce Bowness' pained lyrics "Take a taxi through the snow / Tonight there’s nowhere you won’t go" like a lost score from the Chronicles of Narnia. Its subliminal finale is as good as anything Tears for Fears could have come up with in their heyday.
'Wherever There Is Light' meanders in a similar vein to PT’s 'Feel So Low' or their own 'Things Change', embellished by Bruce Kaphan’s slide guitar. The ghost theme lends itself perfectly to Bowness' echoing conclusion "Walk in and out of rooms / fall in and out of love", while 'Streaming' is Schoolyard’s shortest and best track. Like déjà-vu or an intangible memory, it’s a mood you know you’ve heard before but can’t place as Bowness' vocal glides out of the speakers in a texture the makers of Galaxy chocolate can only dream of, only to proclaim the end of summer and the rain streaming through the evening sky.
'Mixtaped' evokes a Radiohead title and smoky jazz bar in one and also alludes to longing for a past feeling, Travis' flute this time rekindling a certain menace found in the dying moments of 'Time Travel in Texas' from Wild Opera, their experimental film noir opus of 1996.
They may never revisit the beats-imbued landscapes of their earlier years but here the Schoolyard and its ghosts of no-man past find them in reasonably good shape. It’s just a pity they didn’t leave third track 'Pigeon Drummer' out of the equation.