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The Tangent - A Spark In The Aether - The Music That Died Alone, Volume Two CD (album) cover


The Tangent

Eclectic Prog

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4 stars 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.

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 (drums, Kaipa) 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.

Report this review (#1399715)
Posted Friday, April 17, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars I love The Tangent and I really loved The Music That Died Alone. It's my favorite The Tangent album. So, when a sequel was announced, I was very excited. And I was not disappointed. A Spark In The Aether is just an excellent album, the 2nd best of 2015 just behind Steven Wilson IMO. From the great title track in two parts to the two long suites Codpieces And Capes and The Celluloid Road, everything's awesome. It's a fun, upbeat, complex and melodic prog, with Transatlantic elements. The track Aftereugene is really funny : it's a "parody" or a "sequel" (I don't really know) of Careful With That Axe, Eugene by Pink Floyd. Good idea and very well used. Clearing The Attic is the most jazzy track of the album, with a Canterbury Scene feeling. Overall, this album is excellent, fun to listen, refreshing and prog as hell. Recommended !
Report this review (#1407452)
Posted Saturday, May 2, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars The subtitle for The Tangent's latest album ? it's eighth ? is "The Music That Died Alone Volume 2," referencing the title of the band's debut. Of course, the music it's talking about ? progressive rock ? has never died, even if it did (to paraphrase Frank Zappa) "smell funny" for a while. But it's thriving today, if not commercially than artistically. That's due, in no small part, to The Tangent.

As the name suggests, The Tangent grew out of what was supposed to be solo project by keyboardist Andy Tillison. It grew into a real band for a few albums and has since morphed into a kind of revolving cast of players carrying on the band's proggy project. Tillison is the central character (duties having expanded at times to include lead vocals and guitar), driving The Tangent on with his desire to bring fresh slabs of classic prog to the 21st Century.

Tillison's never been coy about this. The first album uses a Hatfield and the North song (incorrectly titled, but whatever) in the middle of an epic. A Place in the Queue has a liner notes directing unsuspecting young readers toward Tales from Topographic Oceans (the prog equivalent to luring children into your van with candy). Hell, he even wrote a novella to go along with Not As Good As the Book which involves a far flung future and, naturally, Yes. Tillison is prog down to his bones.

On A Spark In the Aether, he lets it all out. Not only musically, but lyrically as well. Witness the epic "Codpieces and Capes," which takes on the general slagging that prog has taken from the music press, concluding that those who fobbed it off as pretension were "so wrong" (but, in a bit of humor, "they were probably right about the rug."). That being said, the album covers lots of ground, from the rocking title track, to jazzy ambience, and even some funky bits here and there.

The centerpiece of this album, however, is "The Celluloid Road," which is a view of modern American through the lens of someone who's never actually set foot here (although that doesn't accurately describe Tillison). In other words, it's less about how we actually are than how we project ourselves to be to the rest of the world via film and TV. It's always interesting to hear how the rest of the world views us. In this case, it's how the rest of the world views the way we view ourselves. It's both amusing and a little disheartening. Said funky bits show up here in the "San Francisco" section (which mostly deals with it being destroyed in various movies ? and this was written before San Andreas!).

This isn't a Tangent masterpiece, but I'm enjoying it a lot more than Le Sacre du Trevail, which I found to be really dire and depressing. There's nothing wrong with a bit of fun. So come on in and prog your brains out. Don't forget to bring your cape!

Report this review (#1453695)
Posted Sunday, August 16, 2015 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars When I first got into Prog, THE TANGENT was one of the early bands I discovered, and I can still picture myself sitting in the Mall parking lot after picking up my haul of cds from HMV and dwelling on the covers and liner notes of THE TANGENT'S first two studio albums. Good memories, especially with their music over the years. One of Andy Tillison's great strengths is his lyrics and we get plenty of that here although i'm surprised at my dislike for some of them. Just my opinion. This latest album is Part Two of "The Music That Died Alone" which is pretty obvious with the cover art here. We get a World class drummer and bassist in Morgan Agren and Jonas Reingold respectively, and Theo Travis is fantastic as usual on his sax and flute.

"A Spark In The Aether" is an energetic tune with plenty of synths dominating. Andy comes in vocally before 1 1/2 minutes. Not the best start. "Codpieces And Capes" seems to dwell on the golden era of Prog but Neal Morse is mentioned for his Christian beliefs. This does remind me somewhat of SPOCK'S BEARD overall. It opens with a line about how pretentious many bands were in the seventies as keyboards and drums lead the way. The vocals are multi-tracked and i'm not big on that repeated section. The synths seem to swirl constantly at times. I do really like the drumming 7 minutes in as well as the crazy guitar solo. Also check out the jazzy passage 8 1/2 minutes in with flute. "Clearing The Attic" is one of my favourites on here along with "Aftereugene". The first is wistful and catchy with vocals. Nice instrumental section 3 1/2 minutes in and especially 6 1/2 minutes in as it continues. The vocals aren't back until before 8 minutes.

"Aftereugene" might be a reference to PINK FLOYD's "Careful With That Axe Eugene" as we do get some FLOYD-like atmosphere along with acoustic guitar, bass and flute early on. This actually reminds me of "Lizard" by KING CRIMSON as we get an improvized feel here. Also check out the dissonant sax before 4 minutes. So good. Two great tracks in my opinion, I just wished I like the rest of the album as much. "The Celluloid Road" is the over 21 minute epic that is like taking a road trip from coast to coast across the USA using TV shows and Movies as our guide. So yeah take the lyrics with a grain of salt unless you've been there. I'm not a fan of a few sections on here, especially the one beginning 9 1/2 minutes in. "A Spark In The Aether(Part Two)" opens with piano that lasts for quite a while. It starts to build before 2 minutes and I like the drumming here. Some relaxed guitar as well then the organ comes to the fore after 5 minutes. Lots of synths follow then we finally get vocals before 6 1/2 minutes as we get that same sound from the opening number.

Shockingly(to me) I can't pull the trigger on 4 stars which is the first for me when it comes to THE TANGENT. So much to like here though and plus i've seen nothing but praise for this album around the "Net".

Report this review (#1493750)
Posted Saturday, November 28, 2015 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
4 stars Andy Tillison and company continue their thoughtful prog-rock revival with this, an impressive eighth album that is a conceptual and musical follow-up to the band's 2003 debut. I first got into the Tangent because of Roine Stolt's involvement. This was during my brief love-affair with the Flower Kings, which didn't last very long... but it thankfully introduced me to this wonderful band, whose energy, earnestness, instrumental chops, and playfulness continue to impress. A Spark in the Aether is a buoyant and bright sounding collection of songs that revel in those things characteristically "prog," making the experience easy to enjoy despite its musical complexity.

The intro is an upbeat, melodic, hook-laden rocker, featuring impressive keyboards by Tillison. Actually, they're very impressive. He's always done a great job incorporating polished and ambitious keyboards in Tangent works, but his fingers feel more dynamic than ever before throughout this album. Also impressive is Machin's guitar, whose licks in the opener are exciting enough to make those musical sparks in the aether that the lyrics refer to.

The follow up is the prog-rock retrospective, "Cod Pieces and Capes," a song that showcases the wonder and ironic tragedy of the classic progressive rock era. This is one of those songs that really makes one connect to the artist. Tillison wears his heart on his sleeve, showing us how important this music has been to his life; something many of us will probably identify with. Plus, it's a great song musically! There's tons of variety, dynamic and mood shifts, drama, big melodies, the works.

The second act of the album transitions to the jazzy "Clearing the Attic," which showcases some great solo work by pretty much the entire band. Subtle flute melodies juxtaposed to guitar outbursts make it fun and quirky. "Aftereugene" is the experimental and totally instrumental mood piece. It's a slow burn that builds tension with a heavy bass riff before releasing it with a furious sax solo.

The set piece of the album dominates the final half: the 21 minute "The Celluloid Road". To be honest, it's not the highlight. It's hard to tell if Tillison is being nostalgic, or engaging in America-bashing. America-bashing was pretty much a standard thing during the Bush years of 2001 - 2008, but it seems passe now. Regardless, the music itself is ambitiously performed prog with countless tempo and tonal changes. The band performs exceptionally well, I'm just not sure that the song works as strongly as the rest of the album. It's at its best when the Tillison focuses on his keyboard more than his singing, and just lets his talented players do their stuff.

The closing song reprises the musical themes to a grand instrumental conclusion, reminding us why the Tangent is one of the most enjoyable and exciting bands playing this kind of music. Check out Spark in the Aether and be reminded why you like prog-rock.

Songwriting: 4 - Instrumental Performances: 5 - Lyrics/Vocals: 3 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 4

Report this review (#1532537)
Posted Thursday, February 25, 2016 | Review Permalink
3 stars I have noticed a pattern with Tillison/ Tangent albums. The most inspired song writing (music and lyrics) arises when Tillison is presenting a social critique. Those are the moments where he seems to have the most fire in his belly. This album, however, is not one of these. Instead, these songs are largely nostalgic reflections memorizing good times with either music or film. The playing is, as always, excellent. The band here consists of many talented musicians. After a hiatus during 'Le Sacre du Travail', Luke Machin is back on guitar here, and he often steals the show (I split the Tangent into two phases - this album is in the Luke Machin phase - a massive talent). Theo Travis is here again, and excellent as usual. Jonas Reingold, I think, is one of the very best bass players around - so musical. And on this album Morgan Agren (from Kaipa) is on drums. So, there is a huge amount of talent here.

However, despite the album title, the fiery spark is a bit dampened in the writing department. The band does their best livening up the music, and Tillison puts in some excellent solos. But the songs are simply less inspired. Nothing is bad or off-putting, and indeed some of the music here is great. The longest epic "The Celluloid Road" is probably the main contribution that listeners will focus on. Loosely evoking a drive across the USA as reflected in both the history and geography of film in the country, the epic is actually constructed from a number of shorter but musically-related tunes. The culmination, and best of these shorter sub-sections, is where they reach San Francisco. This section is so good, they made it into a single (which makes it onto the album as a bonus 'radio edit'). Both danceable, fun, and yet still 'prog'. But that is only about 4 mins long, and the rest of this epic is up and down, not quite on the same level as other Tangent epics. Instead, my favourite songs on the album are the 9-minute "Clearing the Attic", which is the closest one gets on this album to Tillison's more personal statements from previous albums (ala "A Gap in the Night" etc), and the return (part two) of the title track "A Spark in the Aether" which is twice as long (8 mins) as part one of the same track which opens the album (4 mins). Part two of "Spark" contains a number of really great musical jazzy passages, including some awesomely beautiful bass playing by Reingold. Those are the highlights for me. The rest does not stand up so well. "Codpieces and Capes" is meant to be a nostalgic reminiscence of ostensibly-overblown 70s progressive rock shows and posturing, but with a similar message to (but very different music from) "The Sun in my Eyes" (from 'Place in the Queue'). The theme is "We've Got the Music!". But it doesn't work too well, and I just don't get the same sunny feeling from this one. It is not just that the lyrics seem uninspired; it isn't very musical either. Finally, there is a cover of sorts of Floyd's "Careful with that Axe, Eugene" on this album, but with the lyrics whispered as "Careful with that Sax, Eugene", followed by a screaming sax solo. This would otherwise be a great bonus track, but it doesn't really flow situated in the middle of the album where it is, and indeed seems to break whatever 'concept' there is tieing the tunes together. All in all, for me roughly half the music on this album is great. The rest, after many listens, I now skip over.

This album is worth having. It is not just for fans. It contains some very good musical tunes. But half of this album is less inspired, both musically and lyrically. Indeed, for me this is, on balance, the weakest overall album by The Tangent. So, I would recommend those who haven't heard them yet to start with other albums first. Overall, I give this 7.0 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, translates to 3 PA stars.

Report this review (#1888127)
Posted Wednesday, February 21, 2018 | Review Permalink

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