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

Rob Reed and Peter Jones Resurrect CYAN Band

Press Release:

Magenta’s Rob Reed and Camel’s Peter Jones come together to resurrect the band CYAN with reimagined and reworked material from the band’s debut album. CYAN features Luke Machin, Pete Jones, Dan Nelson. New album ‘For King and Country’ due out on Sept 24th.

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Keyboardist and composer Rob Reed, known for his work with Magenta, Kompendium and Sanctuary solo albums, is pleased to announce a brand-new album from Cyan – For King and Country, due out on the 24th of September 2021.

Prior to Magenta, almost 30 years ago, Reed release three albums with his then band Cyan. Out of the ashes of that band, Magenta was borne.  Now, on this new Cyan album, Reed has rewritten, rerecorded and reimagined material from the early days of Cyan, and this time with a brilliant new lineup. The group features vocalist Pete Jones (Camel, Tiger Moth Tales), guitarist Luke Machin (Maschine, The Tangent), and bassist Dan Nelson (Godsticks, Magenta).  The band will be playing their first show at Summers End Festival, Sunday, Oct. 3rd.

The album is available for pre-order here:
https://www.tigermothshop.co.uk/store/Cyan-c117062595

Watch the video for the 15-minute opening track and first single “The Sorceror” here: https://youtu.be/x578hquw9nw

Rob Reed on the new album:  
Little did I know in 1983, sitting at the school piano writing these songs, that almost 40 years later those same songs would sound like they do on this album. I remember the original Cyan, made up of school mates, pooling our money, £35 to record them at a local 4 track studio with basic equipment. It’s been amazing to finally hear the songs at their full potential, with modern recording techniques and an amazing line up of players.
  
I’d held off releasing this album because I couldn’t find a vocalist to do it justice. Meeting Pete ticked that box, as soon as I heard him sing the first track. His voice just blends so good against Angharad Brinn, who I’d worked with on the Sanctuary solo albums. Having Luke play the guitar parts was just the icing on the cake. He is such a great player, with technique and feel. What a line up!
Pete Jones had this to say about the project:
I had known about the reworking of For King And Country for a while, so it was a great thrill to be asked by Rob to work with him on the project, alongside the other amazing musicians such as Luke and Angharad. The songs are fantastic. They have a youthful and yet vintage quality to them, as well they might, given that they were first done in the early 90s. But with the benefit of Rob’s experience, they have been reworked into an album which I feel is right up there with the classics.
 
Tracklisting:
 
1.The Sorceror
2.Call Me
3.I Defy The Sun
4.Don’t Turn Away
5.Snowbound
6.Man Amongst Men
7.Night Flight
8.For King and Country
 
Featured in photo:
Rob Reed
Dan Nelson
Luke Machin
Jimmy Griffiths
Peter Jones
Magenta/CYAN/TigerMothTales Website
https://www.tigermothshop.co.uk/
Andy Tillison

Thinking of England: A Conversation with Andy Tillison of The Tangent

The Tangent Auto Reconnaissance Album CoverThe 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.

Continue reading “Thinking of England: A Conversation with Andy Tillison of The Tangent”

Chronometry, Cosmograf, and Perfection: The Man Left in Space

By Brad Birzer

cosmografAs you’ve probably noticed, we’ve been having a Big Big Train-love fest for the past several days at Progarchy.  Even our criticisms (well, not mine; but I won’t point fingers) have been written out of love and respect.

Another recent release that deserves a massive amount of attention is the fourth cd by Robin Armstrong, writing under the name, Cosmograf.  Yes, it deserves a MASSIVE (Ok, I’m yelling at you, fair reader; it’s not personal, I promise!) amount of attention.  Massive.

Following Cosmograf’s history, it comes across far more as a project than a band.  I’m not sure Robin would put it this way, but this is how it strikes me.  Each album has been a concept with a variety of guest musicians.  For this current album, The Man Left in Space, Robin has chosen the best of the best: Greg Spawton (who wouldn’t love this guy), Nick d’Virgilio (giving Peart a run for his money since 1990!), Matt Stevens (a young guy already inducted in the Anglo-Saxon pantheon of guitar gods), and other brilliant folks such as Dave Meros (ye, of the Beard!), Luke Machin, and Steve Dunn.  Robin knows how to get the absolute best, and he knows how to bring the best out of his guests.  Then, add the additional production of the ultimate audiophile of our time, Rob Aubrey.  Can it really get much better than this?  Not really.

By profession, Robin is a master of all things time-related.  He’s a watch dealer and a watch repairman.  I find this so very appropriate.  What better thing for a musician and composer to be than to be a master Chronometer (I have no idea if this is the proper term, but I like the sound of it).  Chronometrician?  Ok, I’m floundering here, but I assume you get the point.  Precision, mystery, time, eternity, space, place, humanity. . .  Robin Armstrong. Continue reading “Chronometry, Cosmograf, and Perfection: The Man Left in Space”