Some wise men of the East have said that you should open your mouth only in that rather unlikely case you’re going to say something that’s more beautiful than silence. Hardcore mystics might even go out of their way in an attempt to prove that silence is, in fact, the only language of communication. English singer-songwriter TIM BOWNESS is a master of speaking silently through his music, contrasting the sensuous beauty of the music with dark lyrical themes to the impact of being intimate and yet highly universal. One of the trademarks of his music is that it is essentially late-night music – something to savor in the hours of twilight when the sun is sinking below the horizon, and thus best enjoyed in solitude – maybe with a glass of fine Merlot. So, it’s quite appropriate that Bowness will be releasing his new album, aptly titled ”Late Night Laments,” through InsideOut Music, on the brink of fall – 28 August 2020, when the days are getting shorter. Once again, he has surrounded himself with a great cast of collaborators, ranging from the musicians of proggy outfits such as PORCUPINE TREE and KNIFEWORLD to prominent solo artists such as Evan Carson, Alistair Murphy, and Tom Atherton. As a result of this collaborative effort, TIM BOWNESS offers us a selection of nine songs of refined post-prog that resonates with the intimacy of BJÖRK‘s haunting album, ”Vespertine,” and the widescreen melancholy of NO-MAN, his long-running collaboration with Steven Wilson.
The album opens with ”Northern Rain,” a delicate downtempo track featuring vibraphone ornaments by Tom Atherton, drums and percussion by Evan Carson, and backing vocals by Melanie Woods of KNIFEWORLD. The song swings forward with the ebb and flow of glacial synths and minimalistic percussion. Occasionally, the piano plays the vibraphone motifs in unison and towards the end of the song, co-producer Brian Hulse lends a hand with the guitar solo. The guitar tone during the short solo is heavily processed in a somewhat Steven Wilson-esque way, while the vibraphone lines, along with the melancholic undercurrent throughout the song, are strongly reminiscent of the plaintive 1999 album, ”Still Life,” by Irish singer-songwriter Perry Blake. The minimalistic approach, paired with the slow-paced flow of things, leaves room for the lyrics to sink in. Suffice it to say, as the song ends with quite a thought-provoking line, ”the world we knew is dying and maybe that’s okay,” TIM BOWNESS is not careless with his words.
”I’m Better Now” is a musical nod toward the ambient melancholy of NO-MAN; basically, a plateau of synthetic, minor-key textures, featuring backing vocals by Melanie Woods and glissando guitar work by Kavus Torabi of KNIFEWORLD. The lyrics touch on the subject of ideological violence rather poignantly. Bowness has truly refined the skill to condense whole worlds into a few lines of text such as the lines, ”two seconds of hate, a lifetime of grieving – I couldn’t wait to stick the knife in.” He makes profound observations about the way we drag the carcass of hatred and prejudice along for ideological, political, and religious reasons, and kindles a light of meaning in the dark side of our souls with a few thoughtful lines.
The Perry Blake vibes grow even stronger on the album track, ”Darkline,” which fluctuates forward with a sequenced, angular keyboard motif. The song is a sophisticated blend of electronic elements and experimental pop akin to the collaboration of David Sylvian and Japanese film composer Ryuichi Sakamoto on tracks such as ”World Citizen (I Won’t Be Disappointed)” and ”Heartbeat.” It might have something to do with Richard Barbieri contributing some of the synths for tracks ”Darkline” and ”The Last Getaway” on this album. Before becoming the staple keyboard colossus in PORCUPINE TREE, he was one of the creative forces in JAPAN, along with Sylvian. On ”The Last Getaway,” which is another heavily sequence-driven piece of atmospheric deep-pop, Barbieri‘s Moog-solo adorns the song with the sonic fingerprint that is more than familiar to all long-time fans of the Steven Wilson-fronted post-prog legend of a band.
The album features also PORCUPINE TREE bassist Colin Edwin, but his contribution does not resonate so strongly with the air of his earlier endeavors. Instead of laying down bass grooves with the Music Man StingRay so often associated with him, he plays double bass on a few tracks such as ”We Caught the Light,” ”The Hitman Who Missed,” and the closing track, ”One Last Call.” Despite the instrument and the well-known fact that Edwin’s signature style incorporates somewhat jazz-inspired twists and turns, none of the songs are inherently jazzy. In fact, the album is pretty consistent in style and atmosphere – even at its lightest moments. ”We Caught the Light” is a slowly evolving whirlwind of echoed ukuleles and lush synths that also features vibraphone by Tom Atherton, drums by Evan Carson, and backing vocals by Melanie Woods. It’s the least dark track on the album, while not exactly being a positivity anthem. There’s still a bittersweet sense of irony in the lyrics, such as the line, ”we caught the light, but missed the sign.” In terms of composition, the song has a subtle feel of 1970s Americana filtered through the art-pop of Peter Gabriel. It is the fleeting impression that also cuts through the track, ”Never a Place,” with the level of melancholy turned up a notch. The opening bars of the song are laced with a strong THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA feel, but instead of soaring to soulful nu-jazz heights, the song settles for the more plaintive waters, floating forward with a filtered piano motif and Atherton’s vibraphone galloping upon a brush-stick drum beat.
”The Hitman Who Missed” is a somewhat darker reprise of the track, ”We Caught the Light,” featuring the delicate dialog of Atherton‘s vibraphone and Edwin‘s double bass. The song also features dianatron by Alistair Murphy – whatever the hell that instrument is, Google couldn’t help me out here. Murphy makes music under the alias THE CURATOR and he seems to be a fairly mysterious figure.
While ”Late Night Laments” has exactly the kind of cinematic feel that would work magnificently as the soundtrack for watching out the window on a night train on a long trip to somewhere, the album track, ”Hidden Life,” in particular, would be a choice song for that. The chilling synths, whispery vocals, and electric pianos weave just the right sort of sonic blanket to wrap yourself in for a bit of introspection. It should come as no surprise that introspective and contemplative are exactly the words to describe the closing track, ”One Last Call,” too. The spirit of David Sylvian is really strong with the album closer. It glows with a contemplative mood reminiscent of the song, ”Darkest Dreaming,” from Sylvian‘s breath-taking 1999 album ”Dead Bees on a Cake.” Both are songs that whisper in your ear: put your headphones on, man.
”Late Night Laments” is the fifth solo album of TIM BOWNESS and its overwhelmingly introspective and plaintive atmosphere is a distinct departure from the upbeat feel of his previous album ”Flowers at the Scene,” released in 2019. The new album is definitely not the right fit, say, for the soundtrack of a road trip or a giddy warm-up party on a Friday night. When the party’s over, the guests have left, it’s way past midnight and you’re looking at your reflection on the window against the pitch-black canvas of darkness outside – then it just might call for the listening of this brilliant album. The music is inherently ”headphones material.” The fall is drawing near, so when the album finally comes out, you know what to do. Shoo your guests on their way, dim the lights, pour yourself a glass, and put the record on. For the next 40 minutes, the world will cease to exist. It will be replaced with the dreamy world of TIM BOWNESS.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Northern Rain
- I’m Better Now
- We Caught The Light
- The Hitman Who Missed
- Never A Place
- The Last Getaway
- Hidden Life
- One Last Call
Tim Bowness – Vocals, synths, samples, ukuleles
Brian Hulse – synths, keyboards, guitars, programming, production