Rick’s Quick Takes for June

Six months in, 2022 is already shaping up as a banner year for new music. My own positive bias prevents me from objectively reviewing The Bardic Depths’ brand new album (though modesty doesn’t seem to prevent me mentioning it; I’m still stoked that I got to participate) — but there are still plenty of fresh releases to cover this time around! As usual, purchasing links are embedded in each artist/title listing; where available, album playlists or samples follow each review. But first, the latest installment in what’s becoming Progarchy’s Book of the Month Club . . .

Big Big Train – Between The Lines: The Story Of A Rock Band: when Greg Spawton and Andy Poole started a band, it didn’t stand out at first; one early concert promoter called the nascent Big Big Train “fairly mediocre” in retrospect. How BBT became a prog powerhouse — through sheer bloody-mindedness, growth in their craft and a keen ear for what world class musicians like Nick D’Virgilio, David Longdon and so many others could contribute — is the tale at the core of this passionately detailed band bio/coffee table book. Standout features include lavish design, with a overflow of revelatory photos; fully rounded portraits of major and minor participants, mostly unfolded through Grant Moon’s thorough interview work; and remarkable candor, especially in a self-published effort, about the human costs of BBT’s rise to genre prominence and mainstream media attention. (Moon’s portrayal of Spawton and Poole’s gradual estrangement, even as their joint project finally gathers speed, is both sensitive and haunting.) Between The Lines covers all of Big Big Train’s great leaps forward and forced backtracks through Longdon’s untimely death, leaving the reader with Spawton and his fellow survivors determined as ever to continue. Not shy about celebrating the beauty and ambition of the music the group has made, on record and in person, it also doesn’t flinch from portraying the price paid to scale those heights.

The Pineapple Thief, Give It Back: on which Gavin Harrison gives his new band’s vintage repertoire a kick up the backside with his stylish stick work, and Bruce Soord willingly “rewires” his own songs with new sections, verses and narrative closures. The results probe further into the moody motherlode that new-era TPT mines and refines: dramatic vignettes simmering with emotional turmoil; lean, mean guitar riffs arching over roiling keyboard textures; and always, those simultaneously airy and propulsive grooves. But while Soord and Harrison take the creative lead, this is a marvelously tight unit at work; Steve Kitch (keys) and Jon Sykes (bass and backing vocals) are indispensable contributors throughout. All of which makes Give It Back another enticing entry in the Thief’s discography — deceptively low-key on first impression, it blossoms into a compelling combination of tenderness and grit. (With plenty of headroom in the mastering to pump up the volume!)

Porcupine Tree, Closure/Continuation: The big news is that this is recognizably a Porcupine Tree album — that’s why, over repeated listens, it works so well. Steven Wilson is as happy and carefree as ever, cutting loose about fraught relationships (“Harridan”), nihilism in high places (“Rats Return”, “Walk the Plank”) and, of course, the inevitability of death (“Chimera Wreck”); plus there’s a spooky take on a Lovecraftian invasion (“Herd Culling”), a compassionate portrait of a man with nothing (“Dignity”) and a drop-dead gorgeous ballad that looks forward in hope and back in regret at the same time (“Of the New Day”). Still, it’s the reconstituted band, mostly writing the music in team formation, that gives the record its core integrity and guts. Wilson’s angular guitar and bass work, seemingly effortless songcraft and vocals that often climb to a wordless falsetto (a legacy of The Future Bites?) are perfectly swaddled in Richard Barbieri’s squelchy sound design and ineffably eerie synth solos, then hurtled forward by Gavin Harrison’s consummate percussive drive — whether he’s cruising the straightaways or leaning into jaw-dropping polyrhythmic curves. Of a piece if not conceptual, Closure/Continuation is never less than well-wrought and frequently awesome, worthy to stand alongside Porcupine Tree’s catalog as either a next or a final chapter in their saga. Now floating like a butterfly, now stinging like a bee, with commitment evident in every note, it may well knock you out.

Continue reading “Rick’s Quick Takes for June”

Album Review – The Tangent – Songs From the Hard Shoulder

tangent-hard-shoulderThe Tangent, Songs From the Hard Shoulder, Inside Out Music, June 10, 2022
Tracks: The Changes (17:06), The GPS Vultures (17:01), The Lady Tied to the Lamp Post (20:52), Wasted Soul (4:40), In the Dead of Night / Tangential Aura / Reprise (Bonus Track) (16:11)

The Tangent never cease to inspire, amaze, and mystify. Two years after Auto Reconnaissance, the band’s follow-up Songs From the Hard Shoulder might be their proggiest yet. Auto Reconnaissance was my favorite Tangent record since 2015’s Spark in the Aether, and Songs From the Hard Shoulder is a more than worthy successor. But where Auto Reconnaissance may have been a great place for new listeners to jump into the band’s work, this record may be a bit daunting for that. It is, after all, made up of three epics each over 17-minutes long, one shorter track, and a 16-minute bonus track cover of a UK song mixed with some Tangential noodling. This isn’t a record for the fainthearted, but it will reward you if you give it the chance. 

Oh, the jazz. Besides Andy Tillison’s lyrics, my favorite aspect of The Tangent’s music is their use of jazz. It permeates their sound, but it doesn’t overpower the rock. Theo Travis’ work on saxophone and flute particularly stand out to me on this record. It’s always brilliant, but it strikes me as more prominent here. Or maybe I’m just noticing it more this time around. Either way, it’s great. 

The instrumental jamming is front and center on this record. It’s always been there, but it is unmistakably the core of this record. How could it not be with songs this long. “The GPS Vultures” is a 17-minute long instrumental! But don’t let that fool you. It never bores. It ebbs and flows, as any longer track should. There are solos from every band member, there’s experimentation, and there’s general jamming. Maybe some of the crinkly experimental passages of computer-synth noise could be excised, but those don’t last long. 

Lyrically “The Changes” finds Tillison wrestling with the last 2+ years, how we dealt with that, and what we do going forwards. He uses personal stories from the band to give an example of what it is they lost during lockdowns before pointing out that his story is just one of millions. He points out that things weren’t so hot before all this, so what’s the point in going back to the way it was? In an interview with Progarchy, he made sure to explain that he wasn’t making a political statement but rather a cultural critique. After all, cultural critique is where he excels, in my opinion. 

Speaking of that, “The Lady Tied to the Lamp Post” is peak Tillison. The song tells the story of an encounter Tillison had with a homeless woman, and he uses that story as a lens to comment on the social crisis of homelessness. It’s a powerful track, particularly near the end when he reminds the listener that all of us aren’t much more than a few clicks of a mouse on somebody’s computer screen before we too are out on the streets. In the end he calls for more humanity in the way we treat those less fortunate than ourselves.

At over 20 minutes, this song covers a lot of ground. It opens quiet with Tillison singing over a mix of light drums, piano, and subtle guitar. It moves into a much more fast-paced section that’s pure prog, as Tillison tells more of the story. At 9 minutes in, Tillison delivers an especially passionate high-note that certainly surprised me. A second longer instrumental passage follows, most of which is good. There’s about 30 seconds that we probably could have done without, but it moves into an industrial-sounding passage that works quite well. The fast-paced section with Steve Roberts’ drums leading the way returns to finish off the story. 

Tillison’s vocal delivery really sells the story on this track, as well as on the opening song. Throughout the album he uses his various styles of singing, including his regular voice, his talk-singing, and his shout-singing when he’s really worked up. He uses these to accentuate his particular points, adding in an element of acting to the performance. Is his voice for everyone? Probably not, but it sounds great to me. 

If you’re like me you might be surprised at “Wasted Soul.” In his interview with Progarchy, Andy explained how much of an influence Earth, Wind & Fire and other African American music from the 1970s was on him musically. This song is pure 70s funk and soul. That’s not music I’m particularly well-versed in, but “Wasted Soul” is a great track. It has a catchy up-temp beat with a great horn section. It shows the versatility of the band, and it’s a fun closer to a somewhat weird record. 

I’ve listened to this album a lot over the last month or two, and I’m still not sure if I like it better than Auto Reconnaissance or not. The last album had a more accessible balance of shorter tracks to longer ones, but I’ve found myself engrossed with Songs From the Hard Shoulder each time I’ve put it on. Andy’s lyrics almost always draw me into reflection (I’ve been turned off by some of his more overtly political lyrics in the past), which is always a good thing. This is art, after all, and good art should make you think.  The icing on the cake with The Tangent is stellar music performed by one of the most unique bands on the scene today. They really don’t sound like anyone else, even when they’re wearing their influences on their sleeves. Their sound is their own, which makes them a joy to listen to. While Songs From the Hard Shoulder might be difficult for newcomers to get into, it’s still a great album I’ll be happy to return to for years to come. 

https://www.thetangent.org

Andy Tillison: The Progarchy Interview

The latest album from that stalwart institution The Tangent, Songs from the Hard Shoulder, will be released — or perhaps I should say unleashed — on June 10th. Boasting three extended tracks (“The Changes,” “GPS Vultures” and “The Lady Tied to the Lamp Post”), the short, sharp retro-anthem “Wasted Soul” and a head-turning cover of UK’s “In the Dead of Night”, it’s a brilliant collection from a first-class band at the peak of its powers. And beyond the formidable talents of guitarist Luke Machin, woodwind specialist Theo Travis, bassist Jonas Reingold and drummer Steve Roberts, the group’s remarkable collaborative chemistry is firmly rooted in the eclectic musical appetite and deeply humane vision of its founder, keyboardist and singer Andy Tillison.

It was serious fun for me to spend an hour talking with Andy, going into detail about the album — including some of the real life experiences behind the songs — and heading down other delightful rabbit trails besides: why he goes out of his way to hear other groups at prog festivals, our respective experiences of radio in our formative days, his favorite band (which may surprise you), and much, much more! Throughout, Andy answered every question candidly and put up with my schoolboy goofs/fanatical excesses, exuding his wonderfully unique mixture of curiosity, passionate commitment and dry humor. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did! The video is immediately below, with a complete transcript of the interview following (and continuing over the jump). But why were we both looking to our right??

Alright!  Well, first of all, congratulations on the new Tangent album!    I’ve heard it and I really enjoy it.  I’ve been a fan since the Le Sacre [du Travail] album, and have very much enjoyed – I saw you live in 2017 actually, in Chicago.

Right, yeah!  That was a great night; really enjoyed that one!  Some good experiences that night for me; I’ll never forget that one.

And that was a great weekend overall.

It was, yes.

To put you on the spot right away, if you had to describe Songs from the Hard Shoulder to someone who had never heard The Tangent, what kind of a pitch would you make?  

[Laughs] I would say it’s a difficult album, actually!  We haven’t made this as an easy sort of pigeonhole-able album.  Obviously, we do make albums where we try to put our case and make a beautifully constructed record.  But on this one – we just did what we wanted to do.  And we do that from time to time, you know?  We don’t always try to write to fit the need; we sometimes write from the point of view of what we want to write!  And we ended up with this slightly imbalanced record; it’s got three epic tracks and one short one! [Laughs]  How many other albums are quite like that?

And of course, the fact that all the three main tracks are completely different from one another!  I’ve been saying in other interviews that it’s almost like three different bands made three different tracks! [Both laugh].  The first one being very much like The Tangent, the second being a jazz-fusion band, the third one being dark and electronica influenced.  And then a Tamla-Motown song! 

I think it’s probably best to understand what the band have been doing before!  This is not necessarily a first album to hear by a band; it’s one of a sequence.

It works better in context is what you’re saying.

I think it’s a contextual album.  To be fair, if you’re looking at classic progressive bands of the past, most people who came into the world of Yes did not enter from the point of view of Tales from Topographic Oceans.  They came in with Fragile or The Yes Album or maybe even Close to the Edge is where they came in.  I say “maybe even Close to the Edge” cause that’s where I came in!

And the same with Genesis: most people who came in didn’t arrive with The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway; they came in at some other point.  And the sort of deeper albums are the ones they go back to and help develop their relationship with a group.

OK!  I think that what I heard in your pitch is that it’s very much “you guys” – the band that you are right now.

Yeah!

So, definitely not a snapshot, more like a short video at least!  [Both laugh]

I think that being in a progressive rock band, if you’re serious about it, and this is more than just a commercial label you use to make things more convenient for markets – you have to be able to make the developments, to take the risks, to do the non-commercial things!  Because that’s what the audience wants of us!  Sure, everybody likes Asia, for example, but they always want something more meaty than that, if you get what I’m saying.  They want something that’s a bit more out there, more adventurous.

So, the fact is that this great progressive arc can take in everything from pop songs, rock songs, pop-rock songs if you like, through to massive great big sinfonias!  Everything from an acoustic guitar being bashed on the stage by Peter Hammill right through to massive symphony orchestras.  There’s so much available to us in the power – every so often you have to use it!  And this means on this occasion, we didn’t write much short-form material for this record.

So that kind of answers my next question, because as you mentioned, three of the four tracks on the main album plus the bonus track are all over 15 minutes; they’re definitely what you would call “of epic length.”  Did you feel like, in terms of the songs with lyrics, that the subject matter demanded that?  How do you develop these longer pieces?

I think that it’s just something that happened.  To me, I grew up listening to rock music, but the first rock music I heard was long! [Laughs] 

OK!

I was listening to Yes age 12, Van der Graaf Generator age 12, Genesis 14 perhaps.  Picking up on Pink Floyd and finding that, because of my history in classical music, I tended to be more interested in the longer pieces.  Because the classical upbringing I’d had – and I’m talking about classical listening, because there was so much music in my house when I was a boy.  And so, I’d get to hear all this stuff!

Consequently, when I first heard things like the Beatles, I always used to be disappointed that the songs were over so quickly.  I thought, “I was just getting into it, what’s happened?”  [Both laugh]  So it just seemed a natural way.  In me it’s writing to how I always like listening to music!  I like music that goes on for a bit.

[Laughs] As I’ve said, many times, “this music is not epic at all!”  20 minutes is not epic at all; it’s an episode of Friends!

Continue reading “Andy Tillison: The Progarchy Interview”

The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2021!

What new music and archival finds are heading our way in the next couple of months? Check out the representative sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with a few other personal priorities — below. (Box sets based on reissues will follow in a separate article!) Pre-order links are embedded in the artist/title listings below.

Out now:

Amanda Lehmann, Innocence and Illusion: “a fusion of prog, rock, ballads, and elements of jazz-blues” from the British guitarist/vocalist best known as Steve Hackett’s recurring sidekick. Available direct from Lehmann’s webstore as CD or digital download.

Terence Blanchard featuring the E-Collective and the Turtle Island Quartet, Absence: trumpeter/film composer Blanchard dives into music both written and inspired by jazz legend Wayne Shorter. His E-Collective supplies cutting edge fusion grooves, and the Turtle Island String Quartet adds orchestral depth to the heady sonic concoctions. Available from Blue Note Records as CD or digital download.

The Neal Morse Band, Innocence and Danger: another double album from Neal, Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Bill Hubauer and Eric Gillette. No overarching concept this time — just everything and the kitchen sink, ranging from a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to brand-new half-hour epics. Available from Inside Out as 2CD, 2CD/DVD or 3 LPs/2 CDs

Trifecta, Fragments: what happens when Steven Wilson’s rhythm section turns his pre-show sound checks into “jazz club”? Short, sharp tracks that mix the undeniable chops and musicality of Adam Holzman on keys, Nick Beggs on Stick and Craig Blundell on drums with droll unpredictability and loopy titles like “Clean Up on Aisle Five” and “Pavlov’s Dog Killed Schrodinger’s Cat”. Available from Burning Shed as CD or LP (black or neon orange).

Upcoming releases after the jump!

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2021!”

The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!

As always seems to be the case, there’s tons of great music coming out between now and Black Friday, November 27. Below, the merest sampling of upcoming releases in prog and other genres below, with purchase links to Progarchy’s favorite online store Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

Out now:

Simon Collins, Becoming Human: after 3 solo albums and Sound of Contact’s acclaimed Dimensionaut, Phil Collins’ oldest son returns on vocals. keys and drums; his new effort encompasses rock, pop, prog, electronica and industrial genres. Plus an existential inquiry into the meaning of life! Available on CD from Frontiers Records.

John Petrucci, Terminal Velocity: the Dream Theater guitarist reunites with Mike Portnoy on drums for his second solo set of instrumentals. Plus Dave LaRue of the Dixie Dregs and Flying Colors on bass. Expect lotsa notes! Available on CD or 2 LP from Sound Mind Records/The Orchard.

The Pineapple Thief, Versions of the Truth: Hot on the heels of their first US tour, Bruce Soord and Gavin Harrison helm TPT’s latest collection of brooding, stylized alt/art rock, honing in on the post-truth society’s impact on people and relationships. Available on CD, BluRay (with bonus track plus alternate, hi-res and surround mixes), LP or boxset (2 CDs/DVD/BluRay) – plus there’s a t-shirt!

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Alone Together: Sjöblom spearheads a thoroughly groovy collection on vocals, guitar and organ, with Petter and Rasmus Diamant jumping in on drums and bass. Heartfelt portraits of daily life and love that yield extended, organic instrumental jams and exude optimism in the midst of ongoing isolation. Available on CD and LP (black or deep blood red vinyl).

[Upcoming releases follow the jump …]

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!”

Andy Tillison – Now on Bandcamp!

From Andy Tillison, posting on the Tangent’s Facebook group page:

Hello – and as promised, here is a link to my very own Bandcamp page. I would like you to consider this a BETA, or work in progress. A few things I need to make clear. These are flac/wav/mp3 downloads only. I am doing this to make the music available – the re-release of these limited interest titles on any form of media would be impossible to finance. I’m sorry that the world ended up like that. However, the quality is exactly the same as the original CD releases. Nothing for your shelves… but plenty for your ears. …

Yes – the albums have to be paid for, I’m sorry but assure you that I plough as much as possible into the development of new work. Most of you realise this. More titles are in preparation from Po90, The Tangent and my own solo work.  Same time next week?

What’s in Tillison’s first wave of Bandcamp releases, you ask?  Follow the jump for the details!
Continue reading “Andy Tillison – Now on Bandcamp!”

The State of Prog 2018: Lightning Round Reviews, November 20-30

Based on these four new albums, progressive rock is doing just fine, thank you!  I’m not feeling the need for a Personal Progginess Perception scale this time around, so capsule reviews and ratings of this quartet follow the jump.

Continue reading “The State of Prog 2018: Lightning Round Reviews, November 20-30”

Tillison’s track-by-track commentary on The Tangent’s new album, Proxy

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Prog has the scoop, but here are some quotations from Andy Tillison himself:

1. Proxy is “a song of sadness at the insidious Proxy Wars going on in the world today where big powers, be they governments or weapons manufacturers, play warlords in smaller countries yet absolve themselves of responsibility.”

2. The Melting Andalusian Skies is “an instrumental written as a reflection on a motorcycle ride through southern Spain. It’s another of the Tangent’s jazz fusion tracks, highly inspired by Chick Corea/Return To Forever.”

3. A Case Of Misplaced Optimism is “the first of two songs about missed opportunities, in the case of this song, personal choices and restrictions that we have imposed on ourselves in our lifetimes.”

4. The Adulthood Lie “deals with the sad way in which many of us (myself included) can get caught in the trap of believing that nothing is ever as good as it was when we were 17-21 years old. … We are daft sometimes. I reckon that as people who grew up loving the forward thinking of prog music, it’s ironic that so many of us just want to hear the old songs.”

5. Supper’s Off is “a sarcastic look at my own generation, what we used to believe in and what we believe in now instead.”

Progarchy bottom line: The album is brilliant. Don’t miss it, because it’s one of the year’s best.

 

Lost Progarchy: Methinks Thou Doth Protest Too Much

If anyone has read the attacks below, posted on Progarchy, that are assaulting the latest from both Roine Stolt and The Tangent, I just want to encourage people to ignore the ranting and raving, and to actually go and listen to the music and lyrics instead.

Stolt releases a song called “Lost America” and suddenly some heads explode at Prograchy. Hey guys, calm down. How about you actually listen to the song? Is it too much to thoughtfully digest what an artist offers, before pronouncing premature rash judgment?

The music to “Lost America” is itself not too bad. Musically, there is nothing offensive. I admit the track doesn’t do much for me, because musically it has nothing too innovative or elaborate to get me excited. But, the guitars are great, and it’s still pleasantly enjoyable to listen to, nonetheless.

Continue reading “Lost Progarchy: Methinks Thou Doth Protest Too Much”

Support this fall’s Tangent/Karmakanic tour!

From Jonas Reingold via Facebook:

Hello everybody,

I´m very pleased to present the next Karmakanic/Tangent output. It will be a live CD from the upcoming European/US tour this fall. To be released Jan 2018.

So let me start bitching about this even before the tour has started and nothing is recorded yet. Why? That’s a valid question and I will try to answer it to the best of my knowledge.

WE NEED THE MONEY!!!! PERIOD!!!

We lost a well payed gig in Boston that was one of the anchor gigs to finance this tour. We run into totally overpriced VISA application costs. Do you know how much a application cost for a band like us? 2500 US dollars, just to get in. Then add flights, accommodation, hiring a van, gas, hiring a rehearsal room, paying salary for the band members, domestic travels prior the rehearsals and all other little things that I´ve forgotten right now and you´ll probably understand that the numbers are totally in the red.

So why even think of doing this? Why just not cut the whining and throw this project right out of the window? I´ll try to answer that too.

To run a band is probably the worst business idea you can have. No money coming in a lot of money going out, poor attendance, over the years I´ve also felt lack of support from band members, although, with the current line up I´ve never heard a bad word, yet. And you all know how to make a musician complain don’t ya??? Give him a gig!! But even though with all this in consideration you do it anyway. Why?????

I LOVE MUSIC!!! PERIOD!!!

I also love the people that actually supporting the scene, buying the albums and are attending the shows. That means the world to me. To see a person actually getting moved by something you wrote or played on a recording in a shabby studio somewhere when presented on a stage in another shabby and funky club somewhere in the world is the actually payment for all the hassle, you feel connected, you´re part of something bigger.

So that’s why we, Tangent and Karmakanic reaching out to you guys and giving you all a chance to support this tour but also even more important, support the scene. You can support the tour in two different ways.

Option 1: Pre-Order this live recording just like a normal CD for 15:95 Euro

Option 2: Be one of 200 that will get their full name on the actual front cover of the CD. 34:95 Euro.

Your choice!!!

And of course, if you think that this tour support is just a big chunk of bogus we’re totally fine with that as long as you attend one of this shows on the upcoming tour.
Sincerely

Jonas Reingold

 

Note from Rick K.: you can preorder “TangeKanic Live” at Reingold Records.  I did!