Tim Bowness – Butterfly Mind (Album Review)

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Tim Bowness, one half of art rock landmark band No-Man, has returned with his 7th solo album, celebrating 40 years in the music industry. Rather than a retrospective, reflective album looking over his 40 years, “Butterfly Mind” instead finds Mr. Bowness, with perhaps one of the most distinctively unique voices in prog, continuing from where he left off and moving forward with perhaps one of the lushest (a word I might use a few times in this review) records in recent memory.

The album kicks off with “Say Your Goodbyes Pt. 1,” starting off with a slow, slightly ominous sung portion before exploding into a brief energetic section very reminiscent of 2019’s No-Man album “Love You to Bits”. “Always The Stranger” follows up with a fast-paced guitar driven song with touching lyrics seemingly about someone feeling lost and out place in today’s society. The somber “It’s Easier to Love” offers a slower change of pace, with echoes of another Tim Bowness project, Memories of Machines.

Album standout “We Feel”, perhaps the heaviest song on the album is quite interesting. Frequent Steven Wilson collaborator and legendary bassist Nick Beggs drives this gritty song, but the contrast between the dirty intro and chorus and Bowness’s always tender voice  provides a dueling soundscape that is at once unexpected, but yet fits perfectly.

In an album defined by its atmosphere, “Lost Player” has this in spades. With its minimal synth orchestration, and swirling textures, Tim’s exultation to burn the clouds away literally makes you feel as if you’re alone in the middle of the Grand Canyon. “Only a Fool” is a fast-paced banger driven primarily by synths. Much like “We Feel”, the fact that as gentle a voice as Tim has, it can not only survive but thrive in a more hard hitting and fast paced song is credit to his vocal ability and song writing prowess. “After the Stranger” serves as a short minor-tinged companion drum and bass piece to “Always the Stranger”. If there was one track on this album that doesn’t quite holds up with the rest of the album, it’s this one, although at it’s short length, it’s clearly meant to play to the companion/follow up role, so that can be forgiven. “Glitter Fades” is a brilliantly atmospheric piece that somehow manages to mix its dance-pop beat with Tim’s mournful lyrics on lost opportunities and bitter legacies.

“About the Light that Hits the Floor” is a heartfelt slow song with some of the best vocal performances and harmonies from Tim on the album. “Dark Nevada Dream” is perhaps my favorite song on the album. Much like driving along a dark highway just before sunset begins, the song invokes a dreamy, hazy atmosphere, with lyrics dealing with midlife crises, and growing older. “Say Your Goodbyes Pt. 2” serves as a bookend to opening track, reflecting much of the musical theme of the first track, before moving into a synth driven section before Tim tells us to “Say your goodbyes”, and ending this wonderful album.

Let’s talk about how lush this album is (I did mention earlier that I’d use that word often). Stellar songwriting aside, where this album excels is its ability to submerge the listener in a sea of sound, without the listener being drowned in it. There are very few moments of silence on this album. Almost every second of this record, the listener is cradled in a wall of atmospheric sound design and textures that serves to support and cradle them through the listening process. At the risk of making an absurd analogy, listening to this album is like being at home on a cold, rainy day, and laying on the most perfectly comfortable mattress you can imagine, wrapped in a blanket while eating a warm slice of chicken pot pie. Much like the creature comforts I just described, every sonic palette chosen (and I mean everything from acoustic instruments, to drums and synths ) contributes to this perfect wall of sound that envelops the listener. It’s a masterful work of craftsmanship on Mr. Bowness’s part to be able to pull this off. It’s so easy to add so many elements to a track that it becomes overwhelming, and yet, “Butterfly Mind” never once suffers from this.

So, how can I exactly nitpick this album? If I can really say that I miss something, it’s that after a few listens, I was craving to hear this record in 5.1 surround, which to my knowledge, is not available in any of the forthcoming versions. Mind you, the standard stereo version is nothing to sneeze at, especially given that long-time collaborator Steven Wilson was at the helm of mixing the album. But much like Wilson’s previous album “The Future Bites”, the masterfully done stereo mix on this album screams to be heard in full surround glory. We can only hope that a 5.1 or Atmos version will at some point be made available. But to be sure, to take an album with as many swirling and evolving sonic elements and still have the record retain it’s coherency and allow all these elements to breathe is a true testament to the skill involved in the making of this record.

One other thing to note: In a genre notorious for having long tracks, Bowness keeps the majority of the songs firmly in the established pop time range of 3-5 minutes, with only a single track (the beautifully haunting “Dark Nevada Dream”) clocking in over that. Tim’s unique voice never once fails to deliver, and he’s supported by a fantastic set of musicians (notably the aforementioned Nick Beggs, and a stellar job by Brian Hulse on synths). Several excellent guest musicians appear as well, including Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson contributing several notable flute parts. And of course, the production and mixing are top notch. At the end of the day, this is a fantastic record.

Released By:  Inside Out Music/Sony
Release Date: June 17th, 2022
Genre:  Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Tim Bowness / Vocals, samples, synth, optigan guitar, mellotron
  • Brian Hulse / Guitars, keyboards, synth, programming
  • Nick Beggs / Fretted and fretless bass, double bass, chapman stick
  • Richard Jupp / Drums, percussion

With:

  • Nicola Alesini / Saxophone on It’s Easier to Love’
  • Ian Anderson / Flute on ‘Say Your Goodbyes Part 1’ and ‘We Feel’
  • Ben Coleman / Violin on ‘Dark Nevada Dream’, ‘About the Light That Hits the Forest Floor’ and ‘Say Your Goodbyes Part 2’
  • Saro Cosentino / Sampled strings / string arrangement on ‘It’s Easier to Love’
  • Devon Dunaway / Backing vocals on ‘It’s Easier to Love’, ‘We Feel’ and ‘Dark Nevada Dream’
  • Dave Formula / Hammond organ on ‘It’s Easier to Love’ and ‘Dark Nevada Dream’, synths and piano on ‘Only A Fool’, organ on ‘Say Your Goodbyes Part 2’
  • Martha Goddard / Backing vocals on ‘Always the Stranger’, ‘After the Stranger’ and ‘Glitter Fades
  • Peter Hammill / Vocals on ‘Say Your Goodbyes Part 1’, guitars on ‘We Feel’
  • Gregory Spawton / Bass pedals on ‘After the Stranger’
  • Stephen W Tayler / Clarinet on Glitter Fades
  • Mark Tranmer / Guitars on ‘About the Light That Hits the Forest Floor’

“Butterfly Mind” track-listing

  1. Say Your Goodbyes, Pt. 1
  2. Always The Stranger
  3. It’s Easier to Love
  4. We Feel
  5. Lost Player
  6. Only A Fool
  7. After The Stranger
  8. Glitter Fades
  9. About The Light That Hits the Forest Floor
  10. Dark Nevada Dream
  11. Say Your Goodbyes, Pt. 2

9.4 Excellent

A gorgeously lush album that shows Tim Bowness at the top of his game, 40 years after he started out. This masterfully layered album encompasses and merges the best parts of the “Schoolyard Ghosts” and “Love you to Bits” albums into a creation that will stir your soul. This is art-rock at its best

  • Songwriting 9.5
  • Musicianship 10
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9
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