It took a long time for the two members of No-Man (established 1986) to receive widespread recognition. Steven Wilson, of course, has become an art-rock household name in the past decade for his much-loved mixes for the prog hierarchy, a series of scintillating albums and now his frequently touching autobiography.
The time must surely be right for former bandmate/current podcast co-host Tim Bowness to bask in similar mainstream admiration. Supported by a rhythm section consisting of bassist Nick Beggs and drummer Richard Jupp (the latter in his first major appearance since leaving Elbow), the richly detailed Butterfly Mind is another perceptive instalment in Bowness’ lengthy solo career.
Although Bowness’ voice – pure and clear – is front and centre throughout, as ever, it acts as part of the whole, balancing emotion, pathos and (passive) aggression perfectly. It seems fitting that Jupp is currently playing with Bowness as Guy Garvey is clearly no stranger to the latter’s beautifully written ballads. Even though he uses far fewer words than many of his contemporaries, each is painstakingly considered, yet open to interpretation. Butterfly Mind could be about many things: ageing, divorce, pandemics, Brexit, paranoia, the butterfly mind that so many experience in this 21st century ‘always on’ culture. About The Light That Hits The Forest Floor is a touching reflection on passing love, yet like the rest of the album it’s neither splashy nor overwrought.
As with the best of his work, Bowness only ever uses what he needs. This delicious spareness can be heard to greatest effect on Dark Nevada Dream, the album’s standout track. The only song that significantly nudges over the four-minute mark, it blooms softly, pulsing with languid guitar figures, the sensuous Hammond of Dave Formula (ex-Magazine) and a Van Morrison at-his-peak lightness of touch.
Keeping up the tradition of recent albums, guest players contribute with appropriate understatement, aside perhaps for Peter Hammill, who contributes a startling ‘Hendrix of the voice’ cameo at the end of Say Your Goodbyes Pt1, and
still-sounds-if-he-only-recently-picked-it-up guitar on We Feel. Adding to the guestlist, that song also features some impeccable Ian Anderson flute work.
With its reprises and repeated lyrical refrains, plus pristine production by Bowness and long-term collaborator Brian Hulse, and a final mix by Steven Wilson, Butterfly Mind is big and bold enough for mainstream crossover. However it’s received, it stands as a career high point for Tim Bowness, full of invention, scope and ambition.