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5 stars This two disc concept album has been many years in the making, but well worth the wait. Part time proggers Tiles and producer Terry Brown show us that they can craft some great stories backed by a solid progressive, and at times, heavy sound. It's gets better and better with every listen, there's a lot of music here, something for everyone. Most notable differences from other Tiles releases, vocal layering and harmonies, including a choir, are in the forefront of this Tiles sound. Musically with minor comparisons to Rush, but still distinct and original. A bevy of guest artists make an appearance, most notably Ian Anderson and Mike Portnoy (and son Max recording together for the first time). This release rivals their critically acclaimed Presents of Mind, if not bettering it in maturity and experience. It's a lot of music to get through in one sitting, I gave Presents a 4-4.5, I'm going all the way to a 5 on this as the pinnacle of their catalog at this moment.
Report this review (#1569677)
Posted Monday, May 23, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars Tentalizing Tessellations and the Riddle in the Rhyme

Until recently, I was never a great fan of Tiles. I gave their well regarded Presents of Mind a try and found it underwhelming. Nevertheless, when I first saw the Hugh Syme cover of this album, I was intrigued enough to give them another chance. My more favorable reaction led me to listen to Pretending 2 Run online, and my first coherent thought after preordering the album was, "What a BEAST!" Since its arrival, I have been listening to it ever since, almost daily, sometimes one disc or the other, but lately from start to finish without interruption. A huge leap forward compared to Presents of Mind, Pretending 2 Run has elevated my opinion of the band substantially.

Initial impressions: This album abounds in color, and that blaze of glory is what first appealed to me. Oboe, saxophone, strings, a variety of percussion instruments, choirs, church bells, banjo...the wealth of timbres is staggering, and it is all applied with great care. Paul Rarick sounds so good on this album, and he employs his own color palette with the same great care. The other musicians acquit themselves marvelously and play with great passion. I particularly enjoyed the burbling basslines. The lyrics are poetic, sometimes cryptic, with an occasional line of great beauty and many wonderful metaphors. Hugh Syme's artwork complements the album very well, and the cover itself encapsulates the album brilliantly, especially if you think about how an escalator works. Given the explosive subject matter (betrayal!), the overall aesthetic is surprisingly cool and cerebral, and this, more than anything, has had me taking notes, scratching my head, reading lyrics, and looking up quotes to figure out exactly what is going on. Pretending 2 Run is not quite what it appears to be.

On the surface, Pretending 2 Run is a story of a betrayal and its aftermath, and the band serves as the emotional storyteller while the vocalist adds context and reflection, perhaps unconscious and conscious mind, respectively. The structure of the album is anything but simple, and this complexity suggests to me that the album is about much more than a simple betrayal. Having more the feel of a bildungsroman than a simple story and the approach of a classical song cycle than a rock album, Pretending 2 Run leads us through the main character's experiences, a series of revelations about his past, present, and future that lead him to a sense of acceptance. Each revelation seems hard-won and is fraught with philosophical reflections. With quotes from Latin, Savonarolo and "Le Petit Prince," the "story" is very high-concept and serves as an exploration of the psychological and emotional toll of being flawed amidst other flawed beings. As tedious as all that may sound, the album is actually very engaging and enjoyable.

Structure plays an important role in this album, which takes the shape of a reflected sine wave, with each CD mirroring the other but going in different directions. Throughout, expect to hear cross-references and whisps of previously heard motifs, little memories that flit two and fro as our main character sorts through the mess he's found himself in. Compositionally, interesting things happen, such as the bass player taking over the melody as an ostinato pattern over which other instruments play something new, or a melodic line on CD1 being played backwards on CD2. Lyrically, words and images recur to heighten the cyclical nature of the main character's struggle and our musical experience.

CD1 starts at zero with "Pretending 2 Run," which begins with odds noises and a marching drum and sets the stage for the album by presenting the main character's problem. Slowly we move down into darkness and work our way to "Stonewall," one of my favorite tracks, which is a series of emotional scenes in response to a lack of answers from the betrayer. When Rarick sings "stonewall," the song has a very dreamy quality to it, as if the main character cannot comprehend why his pleadings are not properly answered. The band says what the main character cannot, and the music becomes very angry. Eventually, the character is ready to hear the truth, and the instrumental Voir Dire (yes, you have to look that up) sets us up for the character's first major revelation and the bottom of the wave, "Drops of Rain," which contains some unsettling static sections that, upon repetition, become increasingly ornamented with background vocals. Now we hurtle back toward home with "Taken By Surprise," which contains a number of unexpected references to pop music and literature and suggests that there is a "riddle in the rhyme". "Refugium" is a fetal position in music, an unexpected choral number that ends with church bells. "Small Fire Burning" begins in manner like the first track but ends with a whimper, slowing to zero. You can stop here and feel satisfied with this album. However, Tiles is not done. What follows is a surreal mirroring and upending of what came before.

With CD2, we start at zero ago with "Midwinter," which begins virtually identically to the first track of CD1 but quickly veers into very different, more uplifting territory. Here is where Ian Anderson regales us with some engaging flute music. "Weightless" is a very strong song with some interesting lyrics, hints of some lessons learned, and a bright jazzy saxophone solo. "Battle Weary" is the companion to "Stonewall," in which the melody for the word "stonewall" is played backwards as the melody for "battle weary". (What does this MEAN?) Afterwards follows "Meditatio," the choral companion of "Refugium". After some very surreal sounds in "Other Arrangements," we reach the next round of major revelations via "The Disappearing Floor" and "Fait Accompi," the "happy" ending we expect at the peak of the wave, complete with light and airy string accompaniment. This is not sustainable, however, and the next 10+ minutes serve as an exploded companion of "Taken by Surprise," now a series of independent tidbits, complete with a recapitulation of major motifs in the instrumental "Uneasy Truce" and two modified reprises of "Pretending 2 Run". These thrust us quickly back toward home again, and, by the album's end, "Backsliding," we find our main character in a strange state. There was redemption of sorts, but it wasn't clean and tidy. The album's closing moments submerge us into something surreal and dark with accompanying drum. If we put CD1 back on, we find ourselves returning to where we began, or someplace similar, and the wave is complete.

Pretending 2 Run is a puzzle in music, and I find myself returning to it again and again because I've lived through something like this. I like and appreciate the concept. However, if you don't care about that, you will nevertheless find some engaging music, enjoyable jams, and thought-provoking lyrics. It hangs together best as an album, but a few songs hold up quite well on their own, e.g. Stonewall, Drops of Rain, Taken by Surprise, Weightless, and Fait Accompli.

It warrants one star more than what you'd rate Presents of Mind. For me, Pretending 2 Run ranks somewhere between a 4 and 5. The high-concept nature of the album is a bit off-putting at times, and it sometimes feels unnecessarily long. Nevertheless, I can't stop listening to it, and I wake up with its melodies in my head. I keep fretting over what it all means. The structure fascinates me. I give it a 4.5 and round down, at present, to 4 stars.

Report this review (#1572101)
Posted Monday, May 30, 2016 | Review Permalink
PSIKE Team & Band Submissions
4 stars While having more then 20 years in the back, the TILES core consists of real prog veterans, that exactly would be Chris Herin (guitar, keys), Mark Evans (drums) and Paul Rarick (vocals) as the three founding members. And additionally Jeff Whittle (bass), joining in 1997 regarding the recording process of their second album 'Fence The Clear' at the latest. 'Pretending 2 Run' is spanning two CD's with a running time of nearly 100 minutes, comes as another 2016 album yet which is provided with inspiration and much variety.

After eight years of a break time, hibernation, preparation, or whatever you might imagine, there is still a rather heavy rock fundament to state as usual. The quartet have invited a lot of guests on diverse instruments and for some additional vocal support. TILES' approach to develop unusual, tricky and slightly crazy compositions, should be appreciated at all costs. I mean, they even could be booked for a funeral with good will. No problem, somebody will be accompanied to his last Refugium by use of a somewhat dark mooded anthem.

CD 1 marks the album's highlight in its entirety. Wow, this stuff is something special, not lurking around every corner, so to speak. Starting with the title track we are moving along a string of pearls right here. Exemplarily representing my personal impressions let me emphasize the lovely violin passages on Stonewall. With Drops Of Rain the band supplies a very enchanting and catchy composition. Furthermore you'll be always Taken By Surprise when they are rrrrrocking the house with much power and finesse.

Considering that CD 2 is consisting of several fillers, it probably would have been more comfortable to compress the production. A minor issue though, this will not depreciate the other high quality material in any way. Midwinter at least resides as a very very fine exemplar, especially Ian Anderson rules with his flute. Issued on the wellknown label The Laser's Edge this also reminds me of the current Zip Tang album somehow as for the basic attitude. Hey, taken by surprise, Detroit is not far away from Chicago! Eh, does that matter? Anyway, my verdict, this one deserves to be part of a well-sorted prog rock collection.

Report this review (#1603757)
Posted Wednesday, August 31, 2016 | Review Permalink

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