The Tangent – Spark in the Aether

The Tangent, that was band I hadn’t heard of until 2008, when on an evening at the former Progwalhalla web shop’s owner I got to hear (and buy) Not as Good as the Book. That was good, and what followed I liked as well – and now, there is Spark in the Aether, also known as The Music That Died Alone Volume Two, after The Tangent’s debut album.

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I think reviews of albums should avoid being ‘over the top’, certainly when new albums come out that have not yet had the time to prove or disprove their quality at the time of reviewing. With this one, I may have a hard time keeping myself to that, so please bear with me. This album is something that sticks to your mind, and since it is not released yet at the time I write this, I have no clue how long it will stick.

The album opens with Spark in the Aether, the title track, which is an up tempo, in your face track – driven by an energizing keyboard, and a driving bass. In your face, is the phrase that I expect will come to the mind of many fellow reviewers. Every once in a while a band comes up with a tune, a riff or a lick that makes you want to go back, and with this one it’s The Tangent’s turn. I posted this one earlier as track of the day, check that out if you want to sample it before convincing yourself you should get this album. Lyrically, this one is a first look at what master mind of The Tangent, Andy Tillison has in mind for us – here starting with a call to stop listening to the same old tunes and make up some new once, looking for the spark in the aether.

After such a fun opening, the rest better be very good as well. With Codpieces and Capes, that is well assured – no need guessing what this one is about. A 12+ minute epic about how progressive rock bands of the 70s were considered pretentious by the press, but to their fans were something completely different. Contains everything the prog bands of yonder days brought to play: loud keyboards, crazy riffs and tunes, flute, multi vocal choruses. Sometimes feels like ELP, then like Yes, and maybe even as Jethro Tull when the flute comes in, but always it feels like The Tangent. Best to have a good listen, this is sub titled ‘a love song‘ for a reason, and Andy’s lyrics explain it perfectly, he still loves his old heroes – or does he? Just keep in mind the closing verse ‘The critics said “pretentious”, my God they were so wrong…. (They were probably right about the rug)”. To the point, sarcastic, and with reference to a short description of an ELP gig at New Castle Hall, in which it is mentioned that ‘Greg stands on a nice rug’.

To calm down after already almost 20 minutes of great music, the album continues with Clearing out the Attic, a song about that somehow brought Caravan’s Golf Girl to mind when I first heard it. Jazzy, but rocky at times as well, and with a relaxed vocal that sings lyrics that are not easy to pin point, but show at least some sarcasm – seemingly about Andy’s own fiery words toward others, that put him in the ‘plastic bag’ of his own niche. A wonderful piece of jazzy progressive rock.

This is followed by an instrumental tribute to Pink Floyd’s Careful with that Axe Eugene, fittingly called Aftereugene. A well performed piece that has acoustic guitar in the intro, then builds a psychedelic landscape with organ, percussion, electric guitar and flute – followed by a very well executed, but somewhat scary, saxophone solo to top it of… ‘careful with that sax…’

But, an album by classic prog lovers, and certainly Andy,  as The Tangent are, needs a really long epic. This we find in The Celluloid Road, which in four different parts guides us through America, but with only references related to movies and TV shows. The music underneath goes from dreamy guitar music, through rocking soul, back to guitar tunes and once again to ‘brass and bass’ – an eclectic ride through the land of the free and the home of the brave, that ‘looks alright in the TV light’. Wonderfully build up and the lyrics are a brilliant way to describe this piece of the world.

Alas, after that 20 minute trip, it is time to return to the title track, with Spark in the Aether Part 2. This is a largely instrumental piece, once again with a bit of a jazz feel to it, until half way the organ comes in to build up a stage on which the jumpy, bouncy keyboard riff of the opening track can shine once again. Also, at this point the vocal return to repeat the chorus of the title track.

That would’ve been a fitting end, but The Tangent has added an encore, by putting a ‘radio edit’ of San Fransisco, one of the parts within The Celluloid Road, on the album. This is (almost) danceable, with a funky, soulful bouncing rhythm and melody. Would this get The Tangent airplay perhaps? Probably not, but on the right station it would work for sure.

This is among the best albums I’ve heard so far this year, and I reckon it will come out on top. Andy Tillison is a great musician and lyricist – and combining his talent with those of Jonas Reingold (bass, The Flower Kings), Theo Travis (sax, flute, Robert Fripp), Luke Machin (guitar, Machine) and Mogan Ågren (drumsKaipa) makes The Tangent into a wonderful and very powerful band.

To avoid going really over the top, I’ll leave it at this. I love this type of music, and I hope you readers can love it too.

P.S. Thanks to Andy himself for providing a review copy of this album. I ordered the signed vinyl nevertheless, because the band needs and deserves support (and money) for a follow up to this.