Songs That Broke My Heart: Days in the Trees (Reich) by No-Man

No-Man Days in the Trees
No-Man’s Days in the Trees

Any playlist of sad songs I might com­pile must include No-Man, but it was no easy task to select only one piece from a song­book pos­i­tively chock full of them. To make my job a bit eas­ier, I went back to the band’s beginnings.

Sim­i­lar in style to their first break­out sin­gle “Colours” (a dra­matic reimag­in­ing of Donovan’s mid-60s folk-pop hit), “Days in the Trees” is very much an arti­fact of early 90s min­i­mal­ist art-pop. Despite its super­fi­cially dated pro­duc­tion, the song is quin­tes­sen­tial No-Man: Tim Bow­ness’ melan­choly vocals hov­er­ing over Steven Wilson’s looped break­beat, accom­pa­nied by Ben Coleman’s dra­matic vio­lin and very lit­tle else.

I found myself drawn to a rel­a­tively obscure alter­nate ver­sion sub­ti­tled “Reich”, first released in 1992 on the vir­tu­ally impos­si­ble to find orig­i­nal EP and the sub­se­quent mini-album Lovesighs — An Enter­tain­ment, and now avail­able on the ret­ro­spec­tive anthol­ogy All the Blue Changes. In a per­sonal reassess­ment, Bow­ness expresses reser­va­tions about the mix and per­for­mances in the released ver­sion, but con­cedes that “Reich is a piece I still love”.

Utterly unlike a pro­to­typ­i­cally unimag­i­na­tive remix in which rigid disco beats are bolted onto scraps of a song, this ver­sion has only the most ten­u­ous of con­nec­tions to its source mate­r­ial. It omits Bow­ness’ vocals entirely, in favor of a gen­tly repeat­ing key­board arpeg­gio. The title alludes to com­poser Steve Reich’s brand of sys­tems music, which reached its hyp­notic apoth­e­o­sis in Music for 18 Musi­cians. A gen­er­a­tion of elec­tronic musi­cians expanded upon Reich’s inter­lock­ing pat­terns, and Reich him­self later com­pleted the cir­cle by exper­i­ment­ing with elec­tron­ica and remix­ing on his 1999 album Reich Remixed.

The stark ambi­ent sound­scape of “Days in the Trees (Reich)” pro­vides an atmos­phere for an aston­ish­ing solil­o­quy extracted from David Lynch’s sem­i­nal TV series Twin Peaks. Donna (Laura Flynn Boyle) is a teenager dis­il­lu­sioned by unsa­vory rev­e­la­tions regard­ing her best friend Laura’s drug abuse and sex­ual mis­ad­ven­tures. Over the course of the series, she is exposed to even greater depths of cor­rup­tion and deprav­ity in her seem­ingly idyl­lic small Amer­i­can town.

While pur­su­ing infor­ma­tion on her own, Donna finds it nec­es­sary to ingra­ti­ate her­self to a lonely male stranger. The mode of seduc­tion she chooses is to recount the story of her first kiss. Her ploy quickly becomes a real con­fes­sion, even an uncom­fort­ably inti­mate flir­ta­tion. It’s an osten­si­bly happy mem­ory, but her state of bliss over an event in the dis­tant past is shot through with melan­choly over a sub­lime moment long gone. Forced to con­front the pro­found dark­ness fes­ter­ing in her com­mu­nity, this young woman pre­ma­turely mourns sim­pler times for­ever out of reach. Her tale por­trays her­self as a girl just begin­ning to sense that sex­u­al­ity was a dan­ger­ous force her friend had already embraced but she couldn’t yet harness.

Laura Flynn Boyle as Donna in Twin Peaks
Laura Flynn Boyle as Donna in Twin Peaks

Boyle may not be one of the world’s most cel­e­brated actors, but her per­for­mance in this scene is noth­ing less than stun­ning. Bow­ness and Wil­son edited and con­densed her mono­logue, but opted to leave in the sound effects of a cig­a­rette lighter and her exha­la­tion, effec­tively pro­vid­ing an audio vérité per­cus­sion track. Here is a full tran­script of the trun­cated ver­sion that appears in “Days in the Trees (Reich)”:

“This is from a long time ago, is that ok? I was about thir­teen years old, four­teen maybe. We were going to the Road­house to meet boys. They’re about twenty years old. And they’re nice to us. And they make us feel like we’re older. Rick asks if we wanna go party and Laura says ‘yes’, and all of a sud­den I feel this knot build­ing up in my stom­ach. But when Laura gets in the truck with Rick, I go any­way. A stream in the woods, and when I think, it’s pale and light out. Laura starts to dance around the boys. She begins to move her hips back and forth. And we take off our clothes. I know the boys are watch­ing. Laura starts to kiss Josh and Rick. I don’t know what to do, so I swim away. I feel like I want to run, but I don’t. He kisses my hand and then me. I can still feel that kiss. His lips are warm and sweet. My heart jumps. He’s talk­ing but I can’t hear him. It was the first time I ever fell in love.“ 

The brief song drifts away on her last word.

Fur­ther reading:

Buy any of these fine prod­ucts from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report:


5 thoughts on “Songs That Broke My Heart: Days in the Trees (Reich) by No-Man

  1. Pingback: Popmeditatie No. 139 - Wat nou, sociaal!?

  2. Thanks for the sug­ges­tion, Alberto! I have to admit I’m not famil­iar with Dolby beyond She Blinded Me With Sci­ence, but I’ll check that one out.

  3. Thanks for the sug­ges­tion, J.R.

    I have to con­fess that while No-Man is one of my all-time favorite bands, I have some­thing of a blind spot when it comes to Por­cu­pine Tree. But one song I really like is “Col­lapse the Light Into Earth”. I’ll give “Heart Attack in a Layby” a listen.

  4. You prob­a­bly know this one already, from Por­cu­pine Tree:
    “Heart Attack in a Layby”. So sad, both musi­cally and lyrically.…

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