The Sparking of Memory: a review of the new album by The Tangent

The Tangent, A SPARK IN THE AETHER (Insideout Music, 2015).


Tracks: A Spark in the Aether; Codpieces and Capes; Clearing the Attic; Aftereugene; The Celluloid Road; A Spark in the Aether (Part 2)

The Tangent: Andy Tillison; Luke Machen; Theo Travis; Jonas Reingold; and Morgan Agren.

So let’s get the caveats out of the way first shall we?

I’m not a musician, I can’t play a note unless its accidental, and a time signature is some bloke’s name written on a watch face … but I do love music and have tried my best to keep in touch with my love throughout my life.

But I lost touch with many things when I moved away from England. Although I had one of those embarrassing ’Oh, how are you doing these days?’ conversations with a magazine stand after a fleeting visit back to the home country. That shuffled, toe-gazing mumbling was with a copy of Prog magazine whose CD promoted a track by a band called Big Big Train (Judas Unrepentant).

What immediately grabbed my attention was the Hammond.

So I ordered the full CD from the band and discovered that this chap called Andy Tillison played the organ. This led me to the Tangent.

My job requires me to travel a fair bit and my go-to music is often Le Sacre du Travail and its sister album L’Etagere Du Travail. I have to play the two in sequence, because, well, why wouldn’t you? Andy spoke to the miserable existence and the drudge of work and the need for conformity that I try to kick against (becoming frustrated when I often fail). So yes the lyrics mean as much as the music for me.

And the latest one?

The album opens with the title track ‘A Spark In The Aether’, suggesting just a hint of Manfred Mann before blossoming into a full on synth, bass and drums assault which had me anticipating what could possibly follow?

My first thought is that A Spark In The Aether continues on from the Travail albums. (I’m not ignoring the splendid “Multiplex” album, all I will say about that is buy it!) And I can’t help but link the wonderful ‘Supper’s Off‘ from L’Etagere with the wonderfully crafted ‘Codpieces and Capes’ on Spark. Both make me laugh out loud because, like Andy, I was there … well I was at school … but I was there.

‘Clearing The Attic’ immediately made me think of Perdu Dans Paris; but this is a happy song of escape for me. Jazzy, lovely guitar work and again, great keyboards and mandatory flute that is all over the place before dipping back into what I can only call that European finish and a hope to fight on. Nice mention for Sally there mate.

Now comes ‘Aftereugene’, an opening acoustic guitar and flute section that teased me with keyboards and bass with cymbal picking up a rhythm to introduce a warm tribute to Floyd à la Canterbury and a whispered line that had me weeping with laughter.

But ‘The Celluloid Road’, the “long track” is how I came to know America too. Everything that Andy sings conjured up scenes from my memory bank. I know exactly what he’s saying here and the heroic musical piece that immediately follows would fit so well into the movies in my imagination.  The “on the road” section feels like a loving tribute to Middle America that had my head nodding before I realised what was going on. A driving song if ever there was one. A slow mood with crickets and images of heat haze drops us into a funky San Francisco section which picks up the pace again throwing so many cultural references at me it’s hard to keep track … it reminds me of ‘Monsanto’ at first but throws me back into giggles again with a lovely line ripped off from Isaac Hayes.

‘A Spark In The Ether’ (Part 2) closes the album properly for me. It makes me think of The Nice at first, but maybe that’s because I can’t get away from the closing words from the previous track. A warm jazzy work that Mr. T and the band can do so, so well. It’s fast and flies along at an amazing pace dropping back to the albums opening lyrics for an energetic finish.

But just as I’d relaxed, we get the Radio Edit of San Francisco which allows me to revisit those cultural references again. But I’m going to be honest, I want to hear The Celluloid Road again in its entirety.

As I said, I’m not a musician but how can I not mention the excellent contributions from Andy’s collaborators on this album.  Luke Machen, Theo Travis, Jonas Reingold, and Morgan Agren all combine to produce such amazing music making me glad that I coughed up some cash to help get this album to print. Andy wrote a while back on the complexities of recording in separate bedrooms and studios to produce music, and how this was possibly the norm nowadays. Whatever your process was chaps, thank you for doing it.

So there we are. Another great album from The Tangent. It’s quite simple folks … just buy it.