THE TANGENT - A Spark In The Aether
Originally started by Andy Tillison in the early days of the millennium as a one-off project to have an introspective gaze at the state of progressive rock, The Tangent soon developed some kind of momentum that no one would have expected from them. Tillisonís earlier bands, Gold Frankincense & Disk Drive and Parallel Or 90 Degrees, both had a cult following in the underground but never made it to the major league of progressive rock. Of course, helping hands in the beginning from legends (Van Der Graaf Generatorís David Jackson and Flower Kingsí Roine Stolt) must have helped jumpstart the project, but Andy Tillison soon showed that he could pull it off also with somewhat lesser known musicians.
A Spark In The Aether is the bandís eighth studio album, subtitled The Music That Died Alone, Part 2, thus being the official sequel to the Tangentís debut album from 2003. The last few albums had darker and more serious concepts like dystopias, alienation, communication,... This time the band has gone back to its roots by making another album about progressive rock and music in general, so it comes with more a feel-good atmosphere. Just like in the past, the line-up has changed, but at least bassist Jonas Reingold and woodwinds player Theo Travis remained, and both do an incredible job on the new album. Guitarist Luke Machin, who has in the meantime founded his own band Maschine, has returned to The Tangent, and drummer Morgan Ňgren seems to be the only truly new member and adds a truly rocking beat.
The album begins with the title track A Spark In The Aether, with four minutes an atypically short track for The Tangent. The festive keyboard intro reminds me of Manfred Mannís Earth Band, showing a more pop oriented prog rock sound, but the driving rhythm section and the roaring chorus make sure that this is a soon to be classic. Andy Tillison shows that progressive rock shouldnít be afraid of not taking itself too seriously all the time. The following Codpieces And Capes is a twelve and a half minutes long epic that throws a very ironic yet loving light at the band founderís early love for progressive rock. The song title should already show that Andy Tillison is completely aware of the often involuntarily comic nature of progressive rock but still decides to enjoy the genre wholeheartedly. The song occasionally quotes elements from vintage prog bands, a little bit of Yes and a much bigger portion of ELP (Karn Evil 9), if I am not mistaken. The nearly ten minute long Clearing The Attic is less open fun, but therefore competently uses the whimsy of the Canterbury scene, with strong parallels to Caravan and especially Camel. Theo Travisí flute work is exceptional on this great piece which is my personla highlight of the album. Aftereugene is a six minute semi-improvisational piece in the middle of the album and another tribute, this time to Pink Floydís Careful With That Axe, Eugene.
The record's centre piece is the twenty-two minute monster The Celluloid Road, where Andy Tillison is displaying his love for American culture: movies, TV series and progressive rock. This is also the first time the band is using extensive funk elements with nods to Isaach Hayes and Earth, Wind & Fire, among others. Itís an interesting experience, as the typical Tangent sound is still recognizable underneath the new funkiness, but frankly I prefer The Tangent when they remain in the good, old whimsical England. Two more tracks follow. The eight minute long sequel to the title track feels a bit directionless before it repeats the leitmotif during its last few minutes. San Francisco (radio edit) is an excerpt of the preceding The Celluloid Road and doesnít add much to the album.
I have to confess that I preferred the last few albums by The Tangent, but I am definitely not disappointed. Andy Tillison is a unique artist in the world of progressive rock. He must be in his mid-Fifties by now, not old enough to have belonged to the pioneer bands, but much too old to be counted among the new generation of prog bands. His red-haired Catweazle look adds to the mystique of this genuine artist who is really deeply in love with progressive rock. His albums always have a flair of academic seriousness, coupled with a carefree nonchalance that you rarely encounter in the genre. I hope that Andy Tillison and The Tangent will keep on releasing many albums in the future.