Album Reviews

Issue 2015-033

The Tangent - A Spark in the Aether - Round Table Review

The Tangent - A Spark in the Aether
Country of Origin: UK/ Europe
Format: CD
Record Label: Inside Out
Catalogue #: B00MNU9SWG
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 69:04
Info: The Tangent
Samples: The Tangent website
Track List:
A Spark in the Aether (4:22), Codpieces and Capes (12:33), Clearing the Attic (9:34), Aftereugene (5:47), The Celluloid Road (21:36), A Spark in the Aether Part 11 (8:15), San Francisco (Radio Edit) (4:59)
Alan Weston's Review
Back in 2003, The Tangent released their debut album The Music That Died Alone and, apart from the music, the only constant since then has been main man Andy Tillison, the irrepressible flamboyant keyboard man whose panache for all things prog remains undiminished.

Now in 2015 he releases the latest epic Tangent album that is subtitled The Music That Died Alone: Volume 2, and Tillison reveals "It's inevitable that one day we'd have to return to that theme [prog]and look at what's happened to the scene in the years that have passed since. I mean, there I was in 2002 worried that the musical form was going to die out and here I am 12 years later watching a new generation of musicians setting off on the big trip." Thankfully Tillison's gloomy 2003 prophetic outlook has not come to pass and the world of prog is all the more richer for bands like The Tangent.

Now, no two Tangent albums have ever had the same line-up but here we see the continued (he appeared on the last album Le Sacre du Travail) return of Flower Kings and Karmakanic bass maestro Jonas Reingold. His bass playing throughout the album is utterly sublime and the essential framework to hang everything else on. His fellow countryman Morgan Ågren completes the rhythmic underbelly of this album. The drumming and bass playing on this record are extraordinary and at times magical. This mighty Swedish duo of Ågren and Reingold are such a potent force, that they set this album alight with their musicianship, and in many places simply make this album groove along.

But that's not to say the others on this album are not fulfilling their roles. We see the return of the young guitar virtuoso Luke Machin who appeared on the Comm album back in 2011. There is a healthy smattering of great guitar work throughout A Spark in the Aether. For me, the highlight is his wonderful guitar solo on A Spark in the Aether (Part 2). Such an extraordinary young talent, he would give Guthrie Govan a run for his money!

Then there is the safe and very dependable sax and flute man Theo Travis who is not frightened to let rip and extemporise as in Aftereugene where his sax playing ranges from safe to wildly imaginative that even Pink Floyd's Dick Parry would concede that here we have a virtuoso of the brass instrument. The album also contains some fine flute playing too!

And finally we have Andy Tillison, a gifted musician and song-writer who creates wonderful progressive music. His keyboard playing throughout is exemplary; from the catchy Transatlantic opening synth motifs to solid Hammond playing as in Codpieces and Capes. He may not be up there with the great vocalists but he does an adequate job that at the end of the day is part of The Tangent sound.

The defining track has to be the 21 minute masterpiece Celluloid Road that packs everything that is quintessentially The Tangent. A journey across America using films, actors and singers as landmarks. It can rock in one place and funk away elsewhere with clear references to Steely Dan and Earth Wind & Fire. All the musicians excel here and is a truly great piece of music.

A great album.
Andrew Halley's Review
Where have I seen that cover? Rush's Grace under Pressure has a similarly uncanny feel, with the follically challenged humanoid creature seen from behind, or maybe "The Engineer" alien from Ridley Scott's "Prometheus"? A film reference makes sense if you consider that centrepiece track here is The Celluloid Road , over twenty minutes of name checking films and directors on a road trip across America.

The Tangent return for album number eight and writer Andy Tillison (voice and keyboards) has assembled a who's who of modern day prog heroes to present his ideas and songs. Ubiquitous sessioners Jonas Reingold (love his bass playing), Theo Travis, giving the 70s vibe with jazz flute and indecorous sax, are joined by the talented Luke Machin on guitar and drummer Morgan Agren from Kaipa - all lined up in a band that "never has the same line up".

Rock references abound with Aftereugene being a homage to Pink Floyd's Careful with that Axe, Eugene, only here it's a "Sax", and best track Codpieces and Capes (to whom do they refer?) praising and mickey taking (in equal measure) yesterday's prog influences, even Greg Lake's Persian rug gets a good beating.

The album kicks off with all the bravado of an It Bites number, but the album's style at times could almost be Bob James or a more experimental Larry Carlton solo effort.

Going back to that long track, the end section is actually repeated in the last track called San Francisco (Radio Edit) where we get the full funk of a James Taylor Quartet Starsky and Hutching replete with an Isaac Hayes style Shafting the cringeworthy, "Who's the band that get's all the chicks"
"damn right"

Clearing the Attic and A Spark in the Aerther (Part 2) are very jazzy but (for me) highlight what I like and don't like. I don't really like the singing (they are mosly instrumental up until the point when they are not...).The voice is quite up in the mix so we can hear all the words, but his timbre just doesn't hold my interest. However the playing is superb and is a joy to behold, there's just something that doesn't quite work with the vocals.

This album will appeal to anyone who likes a damn fine slice of funk pie as a side order with their prog meat. The plate also has room for a sauce of humour and fun. Fans of this signiture dish will lap it up.
John Wenlock-Smith's Review
A spark in the Aether - The Music that Died Alone Volume Two. So some 12 years on from the original Music that Died Alone album comes this re-visitation, reappraisal, or reassessment of the state of that same "music that died alone" and a commentary on how much has changed in those intervening years. How progressive rock has returned in a much more visible and even viable manner and it has indeed even re-invented itself for both a new and old generation, how it's diversified and well "progressed".

Into this stride The Tangent, with their own statement of intent or manifesto even, as always the only unchanged or constant feature of the Tangent is Andy Tillison the man who really is "the Tangent" along with various ex-member's colleagues and friends. Oh, but what a crack team he has assembled for this album, which is a joyous celebration of the wonder that can be Prog Rock in all its myriad forms and glories. This album finds The Tangent very much on the "up" and in celebratory mood and tone.

With an opening reminiscent of Supertramp's Dreamer but with a much bouncier synth line, this joyous rollercoaster of sound displays vividly how taut ensemble playing is, After this opening element Andy's impassioned vocals singing of the onset of aging and the ongoing search for a spark in the aether for worthy new music and not just the music of yesteryear that his lifelong love of music craves.

This is a great opener as it really storms off the marks as is Capes and codpieces which talks of those heroes of yesterday and how Andy became interested in all things prog. it has lots of lyrical nods and references to points to the likes of Yes and ELP and sounds very Yes-like in places with the ensemble harmony vocals and the Wakemanesque keys and Squiresque bass parts along with the ever fluid guitar lines of Luke Machin.

Clearing the Attic features a more typically lyrical Tangent song in both tone and timbre and featuring the ever impressive and expressive woodwinds of Theo Travis, lyrically this is another fine song with its intelligent and articulate lyrics and musical passages and moods. Aftereugene is an instrumental with some superb acoustic guitar parts and Andy's swirling keyboards working together to create some fabulous music.

The longest song on offer here is The Celluloid Road, taking a lyrical and cinematic trawl through American culture with lots of nods to TV show, films and other elements of US life that will familiar to many, This song also features brass section adding punctuation and percolating the sound into something rather different, it's a great departure and one that works well. Fantastic insightful lyrics add to the expansive sound and it certainly feels like a very funky road song indeed. This song alone has the making of being another Tangent classic. I can imagine on stage this would be a showstopper.

A Spark in the Aether Part 2 follows, opening with gentle piano and keyboards and subtle fretless bass parts adding to the emerging sounds Sounding like a prog version of Spyrogyra or their ilk with Theo's Reeds playing a sweet melody before Luke Machin guitar shreds furiously but never pointlessly, this is a fine example of some fabulous musicians making some fantastic and offbeat music. There is even a Hammond organ solo in the mix offset against Luke's repetition of the main theme from Part 1 cleverly woven into proceedings and drawing both parts together.

Again a very impressive track, final piece San Francisco (Radio Edit) carries on with the US theme sounding not unlike a theme from a US TV show which I guess is the idea. Before Andy's tongue in cheek lyrics commence, more horns and a very funky urgent feel drive this piece along at a cracking pace. Yes, it's a tad corny, but it's great fun and why shouldn't prog have some fun along the way?

So that is it – some 70 minutes of new Tangent music which for me is highly welcome indeed. There is a craft, a commitment, a passion to this album and above all quality along with a great sense of exhilaration and celebration. It's different but it's bloody great to these ears.

So will we have a Music that Died Alone 3? Who knows but for now this is another exciting and highly recommended addition to the canon of music created under the banner of The Tangent I strongly urge you to get hold of this rather fantastic album and see for yourself.
Marcel Hartenberg's Review
While it may seem strange and probably quite uncommon, it is possible that up to now, one has lived and never actually listened to The Tangent. So when the chance came to treat myself to a listen to Andy Tillison's band I quickly volunteered. So A Spark in the Aether was my introduction to The Tangent. This being the first album by The Tangent I was going to listen to, I just opened up to the music and let that do the talking. I very much enjoyed the album. From the powerful and keyboard led title track through to the radio edit of San Fransisco, I have found the album to be full of great songwriting. The title track fires on all cylinders and has a power that reminds of Marillion's Incommunicado.

The oddly titled Codpieces and Capes has The Tangent looking back at prog in the 1970s and has the band do that in a song with great harmonies, making me think of Spock's Beard, Moon Safari and The Flower Kings and the way these bands use their vocal capabilities. The vocal lines carry the song and even though opinions may divide on Andy's voice, it's the band's and his enthousiasm that make me give him the benefit of the doubt. Not only does it seem he knows his limits in the vocal department, as a matter of fact, I like the way he puts expression and emotion in his singing.

It is the combination of keyboard led prog, Canterbury inspired parts and even more jazz tinged elements in this song and in the other songs on the album that for me paint a clear picture of the band The Tangent are. Where Codpies and Capes may well represent that all, it was the third track on the album with great interaction between all players alike that really had me in awe. It is a nice and somewhat slower track that mixes Canterbury with jazz and not only has great solo spots for Luke and Theo, this is also where the rhythm section shines. Mind, Andy being the keyboard wizard he is, gets his place in the spotlight as well. A very fine track.

Aftereugene is a track you might never have figured to turn up on any album let alone one by The Tangent. It is a piece that starts with very nice acoustic guitar and slowly and surely gets into more experimental yet even quite familiar terrain. This is The Tangent's homage to Pink Floyd's Careful With that Axe, Eugene and it works splendidly.

It is the interplay between the instruments, it is the songwriting that The Tangent show throughout the album, Andy's lyrics that observe and have humour and the way the band takes us on a journey like they do on The Celluloid Road. This is an epic of sorts, in the way it takes us through all kinds of cinematographic and musical impressions of the United States of America. The band really shine on this track and the way they know how to get into different musical styles for this track, shows their class.

A Spark in the Aether, savouring it again, after quite some spins, to me, has proven to me to be really a spark. Even though the album might not be groundbreaking in the compositions, it is the way the band prove themselves in both the interplay and in the individual parts in the songs and in the storylike feel of most of the songs that to me made an impression. I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to it.
James R Turner's Review
I absolutely loved 2013's Le Sacre du Travail, which, despite me having seen the band live umpteen times for the CRS and having been on the prog scene for over 20 years, was the first time I heard the Tangent on record ("Le sacrelige!", I hear you cry as you spit your coffee over your computer monitor) and the topic and concept I felt spoke directly to me, as it's chronicle of communting, of Radio 2, of the 9-5 echo of my life, and it was like Andy Tillison was channeling my thoughts (I know he's good, but I'm not sure even he's that good!) and it didn't take me long to devour his entire back catalogue and immerse myself in all things Tangential.

This time round on this epic release Andy has swapped the realism for escapism, and the sometimes introverted imagery of Le Sacre for what can only be descrived as a full on prog rock album, with the emphasis firmly on rock.

Instead of the view from the windscreen, this is far more the view from the widescreen.

Surrounding himself with talented members Luke Machin (guitar) Jonas Reingold (bass) Theo Travis (sax & Flute) and Morgan Agren (drums) there are no guests on this record, this is as true a band album as the Tangents illustrious debut, of which this is almost a sequel.

Starting with the wonderful title track with its mammoth keyboard riff, and lyrics looking at the current state of the prog scene (in rude health currently) the lyrical theme of this (and several other songs) is a musical equivalent of those TV documetaries that revisits communities after a period of time to see where they are now, and is revisted as a coda on the album as a gargantuan keyboard based musical celebration, with the wonderfully catchy chorus rounding the record off.

This revisitation of themes from The Music that Died Alone is continued on the unashamadly prog Codpieces and Capes, covering musical bases from Yes to Tull and all points in betweens, it reflects on themes originally riffed on during Suppers Off, about the fact that there are many fantastic bands including the Tangent who are out there still making relevant albums, whilst 5.1 reissues get more sales and coverage.

This is followed through by the brilliantly Canterbury-esque Clearing the Attic which namechecks bands like Credo, Magenta as well as Andy's partner, Sally, who is as important to the Tangent as Andy is, and it's great to hear bands I consider friends getting a mention.

This opening quartet is closed off by the epically Floydian Aftereugene, with its epic slow build, and then a barely muttered "careful with that sax, Eugene", before Theo Travis is let loose on his saxes in a manic jazz explosion.

The centrepiece of the album, the 21 minutes plus The Celluloid Road, is an Andy Tillsion Diskdrive-through that takes us travelling through mythical America as seen on the big screen. Really letting loose and rarely letting up it covers more genres than your average HMV, with the band firing on all cyclindars as the Tangent V8 drives us coast to coast, and finishes in the briliantly funky pounding rock of San Francisco (which as an added treat, gets its own radio edit at the end as a bonus track) with vivid imagery and musical motifs reflecting the genres discussed, this is a musical tour de force, and has been blaring out of my car stereo, windows down, all week in this glorious summer time, wishing I were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge instead of driving down the A4 past Temple Meads.

As evocative as the movies and shows that are namechecked it makes me want to go on a Stateside road trip, with Andy as my tour guide. This album is big, bold, loud and demands to be played live, preferably on Ice, with swathes of smoke machines, racks of amps, persian rugs for the bassist and in the middle a revolving keyboard rig for Andy to conduct proceedings from.
Alan Weston: 9 out of 10
Andrew Halley: 7 out of 10
John Wenlock-Smith: 9 out of 10
Marcel Hartenberg: 8 out of 10
James R Turner: 10 out of 10
Album Reviews