Album Reviews

Tim Bowness- Abandoned Dancehall Dreams

Humans are rather clever animals. We’ve managed to teach ourselves how to express ideas through written words, as well as emotions through art and music. Think about that for a minute. Through our art and music, the emotion felt by an artist may be encoded through colour, shadow and harmony to be decoded and experienced by an observer or listener. That is arguably one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments. – Josh Clark.

When you are unlucky enough to sit there and listen to the likes of Justin Bieber or 1 Direction I bet you probably don’t think to yourself that it is art? Soulless pop music written to temp the money out of unknowing teenager’s pockets, it is more like a giant machine that rides roughshod over the integrity of the rest of the music industry. Maybe incredibly loud, thrashing guitars and thunderous drums wouldn’t be considered art in some circles but there will be a group of people who consider it to be central to their lives and find it engenders favourable emotions.

To me, progressive music, be it neo-prog, art rock or similar, has all the attributes of what constitutes art. The intricate and sometimes complex music that weaves convoluted soundscapes around our conscience that we are left to decipher and then revel in has often left me speechless and held in a thrall as my mind leisurely decrypts it for me to savour and appreciate.

Being blessed as I am in my role as an author for Lady Obscure Music Magazine, I have had the pleasure of listening to many superb albums that would fit the blueprint mentioned above. Recently I have been lucky enough to take up the review of Tim Bowness‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ and this could be an album that will deliver up its delights with considerable artistic merit.

Born and brought up in North West England, Tim Bowness started his music career on the Probe Plus, One Little Indian and Sony/Epic 550 labels in the early 1990s, and is primarily known as vocalist/co-writer with the band No-Man, a long-running collaboration with Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree). In addition to releasing six studio albums and a documentary dvd with No-Man, Tim is a member of the bands Henry Fool and Memories Of Machines. Since 2001, Tim has co-run the successful specialist online label/store Burning Shed with No-Man live bassist, Pete Morgan.

Now, 21 years after No-Man’s debut and 10 years after Bowness‘ previous solo release My Hotel Year, Tim Bowness returns on the Inside Out label with his ambitious second solo album, Abandoned Dancehall Dreams. Produced by Bowness and mixed by his No-Man band partner Steven Wilson, Abandoned Dancehall Dreams features performances from Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson), Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree), Anna Phoebe (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) and members of the No-Man live band (Stephen Bennett, Michael Bearpark, Pete Morgan, Steven Wilson, Andrew Booker and Steve Bingham). Classical composer Andrew Keeling, best known for his work with The Hilliard Ensemble, Evelyn Glennie and his orchestrations of Robert Fripp’s Soundscapes, provides string arrangements for four of the album’s eight tracks. I must admit I have never listened to anything that No-Man has produced so I have approached this release with an entirely open mind.

The Warm-UP Man Forever opens the album with a jaunty feel. The chugging bass and light and cheerful keyboards/piano give the track a bright and breezy feel. The vocals are smooth as caramel and have an open honesty to them. The strings add another layer of polite sophistication and, to these ears, it is this track that has the most obvious Steven Wilson overtones and thumbprint and it is a nice, if a little lightweight, start to the album. The first track released off the album, Smiler at 50 takes the initial offering and adds in a dose of 80’s synth sophistication to produce an earnest song that really grabs your attention, Tim’s vocals are measured and heartfelt and the whole song has more than a hint of the dramatic and theatrical about it, all this enhanced by the superb strings that are incredibly emotive. The forceful guitar and powerful drums add in an impressive wall of sound towards the end of the track. Like all the best pieces of art it demands your attention and leaves an indelible mark afterwards.

Songs of Distant Summer is pure nostalgia and feels sepia tinged adding notes of bygone days. Gentle and with a measured pace it is full of thoughts of hazy days and begets sun-tinged memories. Like a soundtrack to an art movie, it washes away anxiety and tension leaving you calm and relaxed. Taking the album down the more established singer/songwriter route, Waterfoot is an effortless stroll through the delightful wonders of the beauty of music past and present. Ethereal and trancelike, it plays with your heart and soul and is quite exquisite in its delivery.

The songwriter supreme comes to the fore on the intricate and sublime Dancing For You. Deliberately mellow and slow paced, there is a magic to the construction of this track. The guitar is used almost as a second voice to deliver a ghostly addition to the layers of finesse. The choir is almost spiritual and adds a lustrous veneer to this timeless song. Smiler at 52 begins with a melancholic feel, enhanced by the metronomic keyboard and scratched percussion. Perhaps the weakest track on the album but that is only when compared to the excellence of the other songs, it does feel more like an interlude than a fully fledged part of this release.

The summit of the album, in my opinion, I Fought Against The South is a superb song that comes across almost like an epic tale. It builds up the tension from the laid back but intense introduction and eerie strings that are full of apprehension and anxiety. These feelings are only added to by the discordant guitar and deliberate, emotional vocals. The edgy chorus and strident violin just add to the feeling of unease and disquiet. It is music that insinuates itself into the whole fibre of your being as if it possesses you. The instrumental section is incredibly vivid, intense and profound, if not, indeed, jarring. It is a listening experience that touches you to the core. The final track Beaten by Love is a pleasing, if slightly off-kilter, proposition. The weird strains of music from the keyboards, the unsettling drumbeat and the distorted guitar are all used to maximum effect to drive at your aural receptors. The breathy, hushed vocal has a touch of the dramatic to it and the track closes out the album with aplomb.

There is a serious musical talent at work here. Delivering complex, sophisticated music without leaving the listener somewhat bewildered is an art in itself. However, Tim Bowness is not a slave to his art, he has added soul to the creativity and invention and has delivered an album that engages the listener on all levels. Should it be considered art? Well, if Damien Hirst can display a cow cut in half and placed in formaldehyde and call it art, I see no reason why ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ couldn’t be seen as art itself, I know which one I’d rather have!

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