Looking back at 2020, it’s hard to believe that we lost Neil Peart at the beginning of the year. That loss hit me pretty hard, since Rush’s music has been central to my life from an early age. I talk more about that in my tribute to Peart: https://progarchy.com/2020/01/12/neil-peart-a-misfits-hero/. I start off my year-end review list with a reminder of the loss of Neil because it seems like a fitting way to remember 2020. Peart’s loss represents what so many people have lost this year, whether it be family members and friends due to the virus or jobs lost due to draconian forced business closures that haven’t actually accomplished anything in slowing the viral spread. Not to mention the emotional distress that physical separation is causing many people.
Another thing we lost this year was live music from our favorite bands. Big Big Train had their first North American tour planned for late spring this year. Canceled. Devin Townsend was in the middle of a glorious North American tour with Haken when everything blew up. Canceled. Obviously this list could be expanded to every band that tours. Losing live music makes it even more difficult for bands in a niche genre to spread their music to more people.
But enough lamenting. We still got a lot of great music this year. The following list is in no particular order apart from my number one album at the end. I include both new albums and live records.
Haken – Virus I was a little surprised that I was the only person over at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page to include this one in my top ten list for their annual list. Maybe people were really sensitive about the name of the album, but it was clear that the album was written and completed before the novel coronavirus was a known entity. The music is fantastic. It’s probably their heaviest album to date, but it still has some of their calmer moments. It’s Haken through-and-through, and it makes a wonderful companion to 2018’s Vector. We also get to hear some more about our old nemesis, the cockroach king. It’s pretty cool how they worked in some of those themes. Fantastic album that should’ve received more attention than it did. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2020/07/23/haken-goes-viral-virus-album-review-haken_official/
The Tangent, Auto Reconnaissance, Inside Out Muisc, Release date: August 21, 2020
Tracks: Life On Hold (5:31), Jinxed In Jersey (15:57), Under Your Spell (5:45), The Tower Of Babel (4:36), Lie Back & Think Of England (28:16), The Midas Touch (5:55), Proxima (Bonus Track) (12:27)
The Band: Andy Tillison (vocals, keys), Jonas Reingold (bass), Luke Machin (guitar), Theo Travis (saxophone, flute), Steve Roberts (drums), and artwork by Ed Unitsky
Last Saturday (August 15, 2020) I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with the brilliant Andy Tillison about his latest album from The Tangent: Auto Reconnaissance. A truly outstanding album, it is my favorite Tangent album since 2015’s A Spark in the Aether (which was my album of the year that year). Lyrically and musically this albums stuns.
I won’t bog you down with a long review here, but you’ll be hooked from the very first notes. Tillison’s combination of storytelling is at its prime on “Jinxed in Jersey,” and his cultural critique is in fine form on “Lie Back and Think of England.” The passion in his voice is palpable – a direct consequence of the unique writing style he adopted beginning with 2013’s masterpiece Le Sacre du Travail. Andy and I talked about that very thing at length in the latter half of the interview. As he says below, this album is much more philosophical than the last two. That is expertly displayed on “Tower of Babel,” where Tillison takes the technocracy head on.
The music is diverse, with a heavy jazz theme throughout. The classic prog sound that the band has curated over the years is everywhere – Auto Reconnaissance sounds like a Tangent album. The saxophone and flute from Theo Travis add to that seventies Tull vibe, but Luke Machin’s crunching guitars bring the rock. He also brings the soul when he needs to. I can’t recommend this album enough. It’s absolutely breathtaking.
After a few pleasantries (which I didn’t include in the transcript but left in the audio), we dug right into the album. The interview is pretty wide ranging covering the recording process, the overall concept, a deep dive on a couple tracks (“Jinxed in Jersey” and “Tower of Babel”), some philosophical musings on America, Britain, technology, television, etc., and a detailed look at Tillison’s writing process. We also talked a bit about the overall history of the band and Tillison’s own background with music and why he originally wanted to create The Tangent.
Bryan: So tell me a little bit about Auto Reconnaissance and the background of the album and where the ideas for it grew out of.
Andy: Well the background of – this album was recorded before the word coronavirus entered my life. When I say recorded – it was written before that. We were just hearing the news coming out of China at the beginning of the year. We were recording parts of it when we were together, so I was able to record the drums here with Steve, and Theo came here, which basically means that all the keyboards, all the vocals, the drums, and all the saxophones and flutes were recorded actually in this room on the microphone I’m talking to you with for the most part. That was kind of nice to be able to do, and just after that we started picking up the fact that there may be lockdowns and things. But in any case, Jonas Reingold was going to play all his bass parts in Austria anyway because he was about to set off on the Steve Hackett world tour. Luke was going to do his parts at his house anyways because he’s got his own studio there, all his guitar amps are there. It would seem pointless dragging them all the way up to Yorkshire. We recorded it in our normal way, in fact slightly more together this time than any time in the past. It would be us, you know – the lockdown comes along and everybody has to find new ways to work and we find a way of actually doing it together, which was a bit bizarre.
The background to the actual record – it was made in a fractious time in England. The end of the final debates on Brexit as three years of arguing came to a close. Very depressing times when England was busy shouting at itself. Signs of a bad debate, much in the same way as I guess there’s a big fight between the Republicans and the Democrats over on your side of the water. You know, I wanted something that reflected that, but I didn’t want something to be miserable, so I wanted to make an album that – I think it was about really looking at the problems that we were in but having a bright light visible at the end of the tunnel that we were in at the time. I think that’s what I was trying to do with this record. That’s why the title is Auto Reconnaissance, which means looking at yourself. That involves everybody looking at themselves – whole countries looking at themselves and working out our place in the world really. I think that’s what the focus of the album was, yeah.