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.
Hardly breaking stride, Inside Out Music ramps up their summer schedule with a fistful of new releases (some of which had to be rescheduled due to manufacturing delays). Unless otherwise noted, links go to CD versions of these upcoming albums available at Burning Shed; LP and download editions will also be available.
Pain of Salvation, Panther (August 28). Two years in the making, the latest installment of prog metal plus from Daniel Gildenlow and company.
The Tangent, Auto Reconaissance (August 21) From the ever-fertile mind and fingers of Andy Tillison and his cohorts: jazz, humor, narrative, modern R&B, pop, funk/soul, and a 28-minute epic about England.
Back on March 20, Bandcamp waived its share of all sales, in order to support artists whose livelihoods were effected by the COVID-19 pandemic (especially because of cancelled live shows and tours). The results were astonishing: $4,300,000 in sales of downloads, CDs, LPs and merch, 15 times a normal Friday’s take.
On May 1, June 5, and July 3 (the first Friday of each month), we’re waiving our revenue share for all sales on Bandcamp, from midnight to midnight PDT on each day.
(Over 150 artists and labels are offering discounts, exclusive items, merch bundles, and more this Friday.)
It may sound simple, but the best way to help artists is with your direct financial support, and we hope you’ll join us through the coming months as we work to support artists in this challenging time.
And, in case you’re wondering, there’s tons of recorded goodness available at Bandcamp from these Progarchy-favored artists:
In the era of Napoleon, the Prussian diplomat Klemens Wenzel Furst von Metternich coined the phrase, “When France sneezes, the whole of Europe catches a cold.” Like all good clichés, it’s been re-purposed endlessly since the 1800s. Which leads to today’s question: when the music industry of 2020 catches COVID-19, what does the progressive music scene come down with?
In the last few weeks, the toll of the current pandemic has been steadily mounting, with the postponement or cancellation of tours by Yes, Steve Hackett, Tool and Big Big Train (plus this year’s Cruise to the Edge) at the tip of the iceberg.
The tale of Leonardo Pavkovic, impresario of MoonJune Records and MoonJune Music (Bookings and Management) is all too grimly typical; since the outbreak of coronavirus, eight MoonJune-booked tours have been cancelled at a loss of about $250,000 to the artists, with many more tours now in jeopardy. MoonJune artists Stick Men lost 8 of 9 concerts in Asia, plus their US spring tour; touch guitarist Markus Reuter resorted to GoFundMe in order to make up for the loss of six months’ income.
To raise even more awareness around the pandemic’s impact on musicians everywhere, we’re waiving our revenue share on sales this Friday, March 20 (from midnight to midnight Pacific Time), and rallying the Bandcamp community to put much needed money directly into artists’ pockets.
So (if your situation allows it), who can you support via downloads, CDs, LPs and merch bought on Bandcamp this Friday? Well, you could start with four fine new albums I’ve reviewed this year:
Best of all, the music keeps on giving. Leonardo Pavkovic is already sharing details about his next MoonJune albums: a live set from Stick Men’s only uncancelled Asian concert, plus an album of improvisational duets by Markus Reuter and pianist Gary Husband recorded during down time in Tokyo. And jazz-rock master John McLaughlin has made his most recent album (Is That So with vocalist Shankar Mahadevan and tabla player Zakir Hussain) available as a free download.
Whither the music industry in time of pandemic? As with everything else, it’s way too soon to tell. But, if all of the above is any indication, progressive music — due to the indefatigable, awe-inspiring musicians who make it — will survive.
Here are the albums of new music from 2018 that grabbed me on first or second listen, then compelled repeated plays. I’m not gonna rank them except for those that achieved Top Favorite status, which I’ll save for the very end. The others are listed alphabetically by artist. (Old school style, that is — last names first where necessary!) Links to the ones I’ve previously reviewed are embedded in the album titles. But first, a graphic tease …
What new music, live albums, and reissues (deluxe and otherwise) are heading our way between now and Black Friday? Check out the exhaustive (and possibly exhausting) sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with a few other personal priorities — below. Pre-order links are for CDs or combo packages; vinyl editions are frequently available from the same website.
Marillion, Happiness is Cologne and Popular Music. Limited edition live reissues from Racket Records and earMusic. Pre-order at Amazon or other online retailers.
Blackfield, Open Mind (The Best of Blackfield). Pre-order from Burning Shed.
Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin, Star Clocks. Pre-order from Burning Shed.
Steve Hackett, Broken Skies – Outspread Wings (1984-2006). Esoteric Recordings reissue box set (6 CDs + 2 DVDs). Pre-order autographed copies from Hackettsongs.
King Crimson, Meltdown: Live in Mexico. 3 CDs + 1 BluRay. Pre-order from Burning Shed.
Glass Hammer, Chronomonaut. Pre-order autographed copies or the deluxe bundle from Glass Hammer’s webstore. Pre-order deadline: October 11.
Sanguine Hum, Now We Have Power. Pre-order from Bandcamp.
Greta Van Fleet, Anthem of the Peaceful Army. The first full-length album from Frankenmuth, Michigan’s young Zepheads. Pre-order at GvF’s webstore.
iamthemorning, Ocean Sounds. Live in the studio; audio/video bundle. Pre-order at Burning Shed.
In Continuum, Acceleration Theory. With Dave Kerzner and an all-star line-up. Pre-order bundles from Bandcamp.Pre-order deadline for special bundles: September 30.
Frank Sinatra, Only the Lonely: 60th Anniversary Edition. Yes, really. The greatest concept album of the pre-rock era, with Sinatra and arranger Nelson Riddle at their most gorgeous and devastating. “Make it one for my baby … and one more for the road.” More info at Super Deluxe Edition.
Anathema, Internal Landscapes. The best of the band’s Kscope albums. Pre-order from Burning Shed.
Recorded “quietly and carefully” over Spring and Summer of this year, Proxy is scheduled for release by the esteemed Inside Out Music on 16 November and will be available as a CD digipak, vinyl LP and digital download.
Soon after placing my order, I was delighted to receive a long and chatty email from Andy Tillison, delving deeply into the influences and musical styles of the new album, and the approach used to make it. Absolutely fascinating.
According to Andy, it is a “very organic feeling piece”, featuring a real drummer this time (Steve Roberts). Naturally, we should expect Prog – “not just Prog, but lots of it… often focused on the Hammond and Electric Piano”, with “less in the way of orchestrations – more focus on the core instruments”. Apparently, we’ll “spot influences from Chris Squire, Keith Emerson, Pip Pyle, Pierre Moerlen, Tony Iommi, Chick Corea, Fatboy Slim, Sophie Ellis Bextor and Peter Hammill”. Now that’s an eclectic bunch!
Because Doctor Livingstone from Slow Rust was so well received, we’ll be getting another instrumental on Proxy, along with a 17-minute epic that, intriguingly, has all the hallmarks of Prog and yet is “not made out of Prog… Imagine the Eiffel Tower made in mahogany”. I am very curious to find out what this actually means…
And what of the lyrics? Let me quote Andy in full here:
No overall concept this time. Yes, there will be politically motivated bits – there will be introspect – there will be reckless optimism and ever more reckless pessimism. Some of the songs are tinged with the regrets arising from missed opportunities earlier in life, some are angry and cynical. But the overall conclusion of the album is that there is “still time”.
The term “Kalman Filter” refers to a process of observing and measuring something over long periods of time, rather than simply making a single observation of a single moment at a specific time. The process never claims to be perfect, but it does claim to be a more accurate of understanding over the long term.
Why Andy Tillison chose to name his new band and new project Kalman Filter is beyond my knowledge. Whether he just liked the name or whether he has some intent in comparing his approach to the music to the Kalman Filter process is, again, unknown to me. Still, if it’s the latter, it seems to fit. The music does seem to me to be a way of thinking about a process, seen over moments of great lengths of time, reaching toward perfection.
Tillison is best known—especially to Americans—as the fountainhead and touchstone of all thing The Tangent related. But, he’s responsible for a number of other groups and projects as well: including, most recently, Tangekanic, as well as Parallel or 90 Degrees and a number of solo albums (Fog, Murk, Electric Sinfonia, and Durch).
This arrived, happily, this evening from Sally Collyer. Great update about all things Tillison.
Happy New Year to everyone and first and foremost a huge thank you to all who supported Andy and the band last year, bought “The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery”, attended the live shows in Europe and the USA and voted for the album and band members in the PROG Magazine readers poll, huge congratulations to Andy for being voted number one in the Keyboard players category and to Jonas and Luke for gaining 5th place in the Bass Player and Guitarist categories respectively, the album “The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery” also achieved 5th in the best album category, all in all incredible achievements considering the wealth of talented output in the progressive music genre over the last 12 months, in addition to the fact that we have a policy of never asking fans to vote in polls, it was wonderful to get this news in the knowledge that people had chosen to give support without any outside influence, the music really did speak for itself!