Tim Bowness – Butterfly Mind track-by-track album review

17 04 2022

Tim Bowness releases his 7th solo album Butterfly Mind as a Ltd. 2CD Edition, Ltd Edition LP+CD and digital album via InsideOut on June 17 2022.

Butterfly Mind features the stellar rhythm section of Richard Jupp (in his first major session since leaving Elbow) and Nick Beggs alongside a spectacular generation and genre spanning guest list including Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Dave Formula (Magazine), Peter Hammill (Van Der Graaf Generator), Martha Goddard (The Hushtones), Gregory Spawton (Big Big Train), Mark Tranmer (The Montgolfier Brothers, GNAC), Saro Cosentino (Franco Battiato), Italian Jazz musician Nicola Alesini, US singer Devon Dunaway (Ganga), Stephen W Tayler (Kate Bush) and, marking his first studio work with Tim for nearly three decades, former no-man violinist Ben Coleman.

Produced by Tim Bowness and Brian Hulse, Butterfly Mind was mixed and mastered by Steven Wilson.

Say Your Goodbyes bookends the album, with part one featuring added vocals from Peter Hammill, ushering in the album with a sense of foreboding as the sparse electronics give way to a powerful, distorted industrial arrangement that harks back to the no-man of Bleed / Say Baby Say Goodbye. This is not the first time I spot the DNA of no-man running through strands of the album, which should come as no surprise as Butterfly Mind was mixed and mastered by Steven Wilson and features Ben Coleman on three of it’s tracks.

Always The Stranger arrives at pace, propelled by the powerful beats of former Elbow drummer Richard Jupp, who adds a real feeling of urgency throughout the album.

“Yes, even their laughter gets you
and even their smiles destroy you.”

The backing vocals from Martha Goddard and the Bowness / Brian Hulse (now a regular contributor to much of Tim’s work) synths glisten underneath the delightful evolving arrangement. Nick Beggs adds a deep, mature bass line to one of my favourite tracks on the album.

The frenetic pace of Always The Stranger makes you savour the downtempo delights of It’s Easier To Love even more.

“Maybe it’s your age,
but everything feels colder.”

A fine Bowness ballad, It’s Easier To Love features a warm, restrained string arrangement from Saro Cosentino and added accompanying vocals from US dance / electronic vocalist Devon Dunaway, adding a unique, welcome texture to the song. Heavily treated / delayed sax from Nicola Alesini adds a delicious topping to the mix of instrumentation, that naturally evolves and builds throughout the song.

The second appearance from Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson (who also appears on the opening track), has Anderson really leaving his mark on one of the album’s heaviest tracks, We Feel. Peter Hammill adds guitar along with Brian Hulse, and Nick Beggs delivers a powerful and very inventive bass-line, one of his finest performances on the album. Devon Dunaway drops a Bowie like backing vocal around the mid-way point.

Tim has pulled out the stops with the multiple and varied guest appearances on Butterfly Mind, with musicians offering measured contributions that paint textures not heard before on his solo albums, whilst wisely having a core, stable band of Bowness, Hulse, Beggs and Jupp supplying the album with its cohesive identity.

Lost Player is one of the simpler arrangements, with a reverb-drenched drum pattern and sci-fi soundtrack synth waves, which then surprisingly shifts gear at the two minute mark, giving a chameleon-like transformation of sequenced synths and wordless, reflective hums from Bowness. This abrupt change in tone and theme should not work so well, but it really does deliver one of the albums most emotional moments.

Only A Fool features wonderful Associates like piano lines from Dave Formula (Magazine), on this percussive heavy, pacey piece. The bassline from Mr Beggs is simply delicious, and is another track I return to often, when not listening to the album in order, as the artist intended of course!

“The numbers are frightening,
so much blood on our hands.
we don’t need reminding,
the punch never lands”

After The Stranger features Gregory Spawton (Big Big Train) on bass pedals, on this short continuation of the earlier Always The Stranger, with 90s trip-hop referencing percussion from Richard Jupp.

Photo by Mark Wood

Glitter Fades is a tale of passing time and fading influence. Take us back… The electronic beats blend so well with the deep, late 80s feel of the electronics, and the lead vocal lines from Bowness are perfectly supported by Martha Goddard to add a touch of lightness. Stephen W Tayler contributes clarinet, and I’m reminded at times of the late Eighties synth soundscapes of Richard Barbieri during this very accessible and addictive track.

“We were a golden generation,
the darlings of a cultured age”

Ben Coleman adds violin to the final three tracks, starting with About The Light That Hits The Forest Floor. A late addition to the album, its another personal favourite. Unlike anything else on the album, the arrangement is light, measured and more organic. Deep bass and brush drums add to the warm mood offered by the song. The last couple of minutes are pure magic, as electronics melt into Coleman’s trademark emotive violin lines.

“It was the fight that made you hope for more”

And then we have Dark Nevada Dream. The longest track on Butterfly Mind is also its best. Hints of no-man from the Flowermouth and Returning Jesus eras sit deep in the arrangement. Dave Formula adds pulsating Hammond organ lines, with another fine Devon Dunaway contribution to the chorus.

“Speaking less,
drinking more”

Dark Nevada Dream skips by in an instant, and on my first listen one of my favourite parts was the Bowness spoken section towards the end of the song. It’s not quite a Bowness rap, so don’t worry, but it fits perfectly with the arrangement of one of my favourite solo tracks from Tim.

The core quartet excel on this song, and the contributions from the guest musicians take Dark Nevada Dream to another level.

I am sure this will be most listeners favourite track, and when the inevitable Best of Bowness album is compiled in a few years, Dark Nevada Dream will surely feature.

Say Your Goodbyes, Pt. 2 closes the album in a similar vein to the start of the journey, with the startling difference being the violent end section from Ben Coleman, duelling and driving out the organ swells, and bursting out of your speakers / headphones with clarity and force.

If you have opted for the vinyl version of Butterfly Mind, I would also recommend seeking out the limited double CD version. Disc two of this set features alternative takes of tracks from the album. The highlights include a powerful and raw take on Lost Player. This is the original solo demo from Tim and the track that started the whole project off, as Lost Player was the first song Tim wrote after eight months of doing covers and Plenty re-recordings. I also love the stunning alternative version of About The Light That Hits The Forest Floor along with the track that was for a while due to take its place in the original running order, Clearing Houses.

Photo by Mark Wood

Clearing Houses contains one of Tim’s most moving lyrics, driven by a direct simplicity that makes it sit amongst the finest of recent Bowness stories. Its so true that the four walls that surround and protect us throughout key points in our lives hold so many memories, and are so much more than just bricks and mortar. When we move to a new home, we often reflect on the loves, losses and growth we have witnessed. Clearing houses can mean taking time to reflect on the ghosts that live on in the photos taken in the home we are leaving for the final time. Alongside another fine Ian Anderson contribution, Clearing Houses deserves to be heard and enjoyed as so much more than ‘just’ an album out-take.

Butterfly Mind is the most rewarding solo album from Tim to date. Although it has a rich consistency due to the four key musicians who feature throughout, the guests add spice to every song they touch. I sometimes worry that utilising such high profile guests can take away the focus, but none of the musicians or vocalists on Butterfly Mind overshadow the songs or the arrangements. They all add unique flavours and a different personality to the mix, always adding and never detracting from a career best album.

Butterfly Mind Tracklist

Say Your Goodbyes, Pt. 1
Always The Stranger
It’s Easier To Love
We Feel
Lost Player
Only A Fool
After The Stranger
Glitter Fades
About The Light That Hits The Forest Floor
Dark Nevada Dream
Say Your Goodbyes, Pt. 2


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