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tim bowness - my hotel year (cd)
Evocative and intense, 'My Hotel Year' is the debut solo album from No-Man¹s Tim Bowness, which marks Tim's return to the One Little Indian label after a decade's absence.
Primarily written and produced in association with No-Man collaborators David Picking and Stephen Bennett, the album's 11 songs were written and recorded in England and Germany over an intensive six-month period.
Legendary fuzz-bass innovator Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine/Robert Wyatt), Roger Eno, Michael Bearpark, Peter Chilvers and Centrozoon's Markus Reuter, also make superb contributions.
Shifting from the observational Last Years Tattoo and Brave Dreams to
the fractured groove of I Once Loved You, the ambient lull of the 75-second title track and the exquisite string-quartet languor of 'Sleepwalker', the album combines highly personal narrative song-writing with inventively eclectic arrangements and a stripped-down production approach.
'One of the year's most original, personal and haunting records' (Martin Aston - The Times/MOJO).
A detailed biography and album review from Martin Aston is included in the 'Notes' section.
My Hotel Year
1. Last Year's Tattoo
2. I Once Loved You
3. World Afraid
4. The Me I Knew
5. Made See-Through
6. Hotel Year
7. Ian McShane
8. Blackrock 2000
9. Making A Mess In A Clean Place
11. Brave Dreams
TIM BOWNESS - BIOGRAPHY
"Nothing's clear / except blood and fear" ('The Me I Knew')
Calling all fans of Bowie, Sylvian, This Mortal Coil and the quintessential 4AD sound, Hammill, Walker, Drake, Tim Buckley, Eno, Marks Hollis and Eitzel, Portishead, Red House Painters and existential introspection set to a smorgasbord of 21st century beats - upbeat, downbeat or simply a heartbeat.
This is where Tim Bowness comes in. A fan too of all of the above, his singing and his songwriting is a reflection of growing up with, and alongside, those landmark artists and records, which presents a viable argument to be added to that heroic list.
His career has spanned over 15 years to date, rammed with incident, and multiple guises, though most prominently as No-Man, his partnership with multi-instrumentalist Steven Wilson (who some might know well as the mind behind Porcupine Tree).
But this is where Tim Bowness steps out as simply Tim Bowness, on his first solo album, 'My Hotel Year', written and recorded in England and Germany in the months after No-Man released its fifth album 'Together We're Stranger' in 2003.
"I felt it was about time that I dictated things for a change," he ventures. "Even when you write the songs, band politics often get in the way and they don't come out exactly the way you want them to. This time, although I wrote less music than I did for the last two No-Man albums, I have more control over the end result."
That end result is one of the year's most original, personal and haunting records - embracing that Bowness-branded singer-songwriter/art-rock style but with a noticeably starker, intimate, gripping edge.
And for every end result, there is a prologue - one that contains explanations for 'My Hotel Year's intimate, pained, lavish, tender, dark, elegant vision and voice.
This saga begins with a childhood and adolescence spent in Stockton Heath (South Warrington) in Cheshire, in suburban anonymity half way between Manchester and Liverpool. Music was a crucial mainstay; then, at 15, his family was blown apart (his mother was killed, which had a knock-on effect on other family members including his close Grandmother who had several nervous breakdowns around this time). Those arty New Wave heroes (Associates, Japan etc?) and their antecedents (Bowie, Nico, Hammill, Gabriel, Walker, Wyatt and Eno/Roxy) became ever more important. Bowie's 'Low', Kate Bush's 'Lionheart' and Hammill's 'Over' were the teenage Tim's pillars... ah, happy days..
Appreciating the same early '60s kitchen-sink dramas as Morrissey ('A Taste of Honey', 'A Kind of Loving', 'Charlie Bubbles' et al), Bowness adored The Smiths, but crucially, the lush, panoramic Blue Nile appealed even more, along with David Sylvian's solo work and 4AD bands like The Cocteau Twins: "I found their sensuality and their experiments with texture and arrangement very engaging."
But late-1980s sampling culture engaged just as much, so after Bowness moved down to London, to work with Steven Wilson and violinist Ben Coleman (No-Man was initially a trio), the future was emotionally quirky, texturally sensuous AND beats-driven - and sounding like nothing of that time. No-Man's first single, a cover of Donovan's 'Colours' that pre-dated trip-hop culture by several years, made Single of the Week in Melody Maker and Sounds, which resulted in a contract with One Little Indian and Sony in America. Suddenly, Warrington wasn't only notorious for just Chris Evans, Pete Postlethwaite, Ossie Clarke and Vladivar Vodka.
The mini-album debut 'Lovesighs' and its full-length follow-up 'Loveblows And Lovecries' followed - "the ultimate fusion of the love song, the symphony and the dance beat," as their sleevenoter Billy Baudelaire rightly saw it.
By now a duo, and managed by Talk Talk's management, No-Man released 1993's 'Flowermouth', a rich, mature step forward in their fusion of art-rock, electronica, experimental pop, jazz and contemporary classical, reflected by its guest stars - among them, guitarist Robert Fripp, Japan's Jansen and Barbieri and Dead Can Dance vocalist Lisa Gerrard.
Tim: "We felt it was our strongest album to date, yet it clearly wasn't the record One Little Indian wanted at the time. For me, music is a personal expression, and a constant education. Things must evolve. We loved Prefab Sprout and The Beach Boys, so it wasn't a contrivance for us to produce pop music, but we sensed that the label were expecting a designer hit, while we just wanted to make an album that was out of time and reflective of the music we felt was precious and important, like Miles Davis, Steve Reich and Kate Bush."
And so No-Man shifted to the 3rd Stone label, releasing 1996's eclectic 'Wild Opera' and 2001's 'Returning Jesus' and then, for Snapper Music, 2003's 'Together We're Stranger', with each album outselling its predecessor as word of mouth spread (especially in Italy, Poland and the US). The duo's side projects (for Tim, including duets with Jarboe, Italian pop star Alice and working with Sylvian/Bowie collaborator David Torn) slotted in between and around, but during talks with One Little Indian about reissuing 'Flowermouth?, the label got wind of Tim's solo plans and got involved again.
Prologue over. The spark that created the drive to make My Hotel Year was recording 'World Afraid' (one of the album's starkest ballads) with David Picking of Rhinoceros and Gramophone. Tim: "I wanted to make something as strong, and with as much integrity, as No-Man, but also clearly different. Fortunately, my relationship with David is as creative as the one I have with Steven."
Tim didn't have to make a solo album to turn on the confessional - after all, 'Together We're Stranger' was his big break-up album (just like Peter Hammill's 'Over' all those years ago), but without Steven, Tim was free to strip everything back - consequently, the wracked relationships and lovelorn dialogues that constitute 'My Hotel Year' are the most direct of any of his recordings.
"That very stripped-down sound is something that I like a lot. I love the sound of John Lennon's 'Plastic Ono Band', for example. I like the fact that the album has an emotional coherence, but that the sound palate constantly shifts direction without disrupting the mood. I also remember an NME review about Nick Drake that suggested that his work was incredibly emotional without him deliberately imposing his emotions on the work - that he had a grace, even when he was being so relentlessly melancholy. It may sound ridiculous, but that's a state of grace I?d like to aspire to."
That graceful state shifts between restless, jazzy despondency ('Making A Mess In A Clean Place', co-written with ex-Soft Machine member and legendary bassist, Hugh Hopper), the exquisite string-quartet languor of 'Sleepwalker', the Red House Painters/American Music Club echoes in 'Last Year's Tattoo', the ambient, Nico-esque lull of the 75-second title track
(with Brian's similarly gifted musician sibling Roger Eno on harmonium) and the fractured electronic pulses that lend 'Brave Dreams' and 'I Once Loved You' another style of ebb-and-flow mobility. "I can't tell you where 'I Once Loved You' comes from," he laughs. "'Last Year's Tattoo' felt like something new for me too. It just emerged without any forethought other than to avoid stepping into personal clichés."
"The album title comes from a short story I really like by Douglas Coupland. It's about a character who, because they don't know what they're doing or where they want to go, ends up staying in a hotel for a year observing states of transience, impermanence and waiting. It struck a chord with me and echoed certain experiences I'd gone through myself, hence I used it as the title of the album."
Hence words such as "thinking's just a sucker's game" (from 'Ian McShane'), "struck dumb by the stasis" ('My Hotel Year'), "we look to facts to set us free / just troubled souls who can't agree" (?Made See-Through') and "brave dreams, foolish waking" ('Brave Dreams') - though Tim maintains that it's not just him who's in anxious transition, but the people around him. "There's definitely something in me that responds to certain heightened emotional situations in other people's lives," he admits.
Truly, there is an overriding sense of everyone's lives going through the same cycles - nothing's clear except blood and fear, indeed. These vignettes have the simplicity and foreboding found in writer Raymond Carver and painter Edward Hopper, both favourites of Tim's. "I like that aspect of something seemingly simple that implies a great deal more than it at first suggests. That territory always inspires me."
Tim feels he's partially driven by a fear of repeating himself and that he has to keep changing the musical context his voice works in. "Music has always been a cathartic means of exorcising my main fears and emotions at any given time. For this album, I wanted to wipe the slate clean and avoid repeating the more obvious patterns of my previous albums. By the next album, of course, I'll want to avoid re-making this one!"
(Times / Mojo)
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