Tim Bowness / Peter Chilvers Modern Ruins track-by-track album review

5 04 2020

18 years after the duo’s debut California, Norfolk Tim Bowness (no-man) and Peter Chilvers (Brian Eno/Karl Hyde) return with their second studio album, Modern Ruins, mixed by Peter Hammill.

Opening with the direct and movingly simple Sleeping Face, the duo pick up from California, Norfolk before the album swerves off in a more electronic direction. Sleeping Face really “hits you like a fist”. One of the saddest songs in a huge canon of sad and moving Bowness songs.

The aching strings and plaintive piano, with hints of Americana, effective mood enhancing found sounds and a slight flavour of country music, means that the song sounds like a lost standard from the 1950’s.

Prepare to have something in your eye when experiencing Sleeping Face for the first time.

From this point onward, Modern Ruins deviates from its predecessor. The Boy From Yesterday is underpinned with bubbling and slowly decaying electronica. I love the way the arrangement builds, as Bjork-like pulses and colourful synth patterns scatter around Tim’s vocals.

You, making your move is a real surprise. Without giving too much away, think of the ending to the final Sopranos episode. How does this story end, did our protagonist walk away or did something more sinister occur?

The production on Modern Ruins is so strong throughout the album, and the audio treatment on tracks such as You, making your move are subtle but often sharply effective.

Blog Remember Me wins best song title of 2020 hands down for me, before the year is even done. Luckily, the song lives up to the great title. The album’s strongest ear-worm by far, it delivers an emotive study of how we communicate and hope to be remembered, ringing even more true with the added poignancy in our current climate of reliance on social distancing and digital communication to keep us as intertwined humans.

Blog Remember Me is remarkably uplifting and features a rare Bowness / Chilvers sing-along section at the end. I dare you to resist joining in.

“The things that seemed important, no longer seem important. 
The things that seemed important, no longer seen.”

Put simply, Blog Remember Me is one of my favourite Bowness / Chilvers songs.

The Love Is Always There reminds me a little of Among Angels by Kate Bush, and is one of the few tracks that could have been included on the duo’s debut release. A short and simple piece, it is well sequenced next to Cowboys In Leather, a song that would not sound out of place in a David Lynch film. A nice production touch is the rhythmic effect on the heavily processed backing vocals, making them work as an additional instrument in their own right.

Slow Life To Fade is my favourite piece on the album. I love the Arabic sounding distorted vocal phrases employed by Tim at key points in the song.

And when the electronics from Mr Chilvers really kick in, with hard sequenced synths battling against brutal, scary distorted horror-movie vocal effects, well I’m simply in musical heaven. And as Slow Life To Fade is the album’s longest track, I’m in a happy place for so much longer.

Modern Ruins ends with its second long piece, Ghost In The City. Another track that, production wise, reminds me a little of Kate Bush, particularly side 2 of Hounds of Love. The reverb hanging on for dear life to the coat-tails of Chilver’s piano notes is beautiful.

Ghost In The City is Bowness at his most lyrically bleak and raw. The strings and the deep piano lines give a feel of The Blue Nile at their most heart-wrenching, and like The Blue Nile, this song is a perfect soundtrack for late night headphone listening. More than anything, Ghost In The City evokes the calm beauty of a sleepy city at 4am, before the population springs back into action and pours out of their homes.

Modern Ruins is a step up from California, Norfolk. There was a feeling of a somewhat lo-fi, early 80s singer-songwriter release about the debut Bowness / Chilvers album. This new album feels more confident and assured, displaying more varied and expansive arrangements and an increased use of electronic textures.

Modern Ruins delivers a set of the duo’s strongest songs, with no weak points or overstayed welcomes. Every single note, vocal line and lyric, held together with all the ingenious production twists, make this one of my album’s of 2020.

Sleeping Face (4.08)
The Boy From Yesterday (6.23)
You, Making Your Move (1.58)
Blog Remember Me (5.40)
The Love Is Always There (3.38)
Cowboys In Leather (3.43)
Slow Life To Fade (7.32)
Ghost In The City (7.18)

Buy Modern Ruins from Burning Shed








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