Bryan’s Best of the Decade, 2012-2022

As we here at Progarchy continue to celebrate our tenth anniversary, we’re moving from talking about our favorite artists of the decade to our favorite albums. Since 2014 I’ve compiled a “best of” list highlighting my favorite music of the year. Looking back, I still stand behind my lists because they represent where I was with music at the time. But now as I look back and try to compile a top ten for 2012-2022, my list looks a little bit different. The following list reflects my views and tastes regarding the last ten years as they sit right now. It’s all very fluid and subjective.

But enough blathering. On with my top ten. The only limit I put on myself was I didn’t want to repeat artists, because otherwise it would all be Big Big Train or Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy. Limiting myself to one album from each of those artists was difficult, but I’ll steer you back to my yearly best of lists at the end of the article, for those artists abound in those lists.

[Headline links, for those that have them, link to Progarchy reviews, articles, or interviews associated with the album.]

10. Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light Of Day (2017)Pain of Salvation - Passing Light of DayI missed this album when it came out, although I remember reading about it in Prog magazine. I came to appreciate Pain of Salvation with their 2020 album, Panther, which was my top album of the year. I finally started to dig into their back catalog this summer, and I’ve been blown away. In The Passing Light Of Day is a brilliant tour-de-force of emotions. Some of the lyrics I think are too sexually explicit, which is primarily why I rank it at number 10 and why I almost kicked it off my top ten. But the music and melodies are so good, and most of the lyrics are incredibly profound. I also think Ragnar Zolberg brought a lot to the table and was a great balance to Daniel Gildenlöw.

9. The Neal Morse Band – Innocence and Danger (2021)
The Neal Morse Band Innocence & DangerIt was hard to pick one of the MANY albums made by Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy  over the past decade. They’re all just so good, so I took the easy way out and picked the most recent. I think this is the most well put-together of all the Neal Morse Band albums. “Beyond the Years” is one of the finest pieces of music to come out of the last several years.

8. TesseracT – Portals (2021)
tesseract-portalsPortals is a brilliant album. It is unique on this list for being a live release, but it is also unique for being a live-in-studio release – a product of the pandemic. I suppose that’s why I don’t rank it higher on this list, but I’ve been listening to it a ton since it came out. I even broke down recently and bought the fancy deluxe CD/DVD/Blu-ray edition. I think most of the tracks on here sound better than they do on the original albums. The album also introduced me to the band, as well as to the world of djent. The way the band blends djent riffs with Floydian spacey motifs is just perfect. One of the finest bands in the world right now.

7. Haken – The Mountain (2013)
haken mountainI go in spurts when listening to Haken (like I do with many bands). The Mountain has a magnificent blend of metal with splashes of 70s golden age prog. Songs like “Atlas Stone,” “The Cockroach King,” “Falling Back to Earth,” and “Pareidolia” have become prog metal classics, in my book. I’ve come to think Haken isn’t as compelling in their quiet tracks as bands like Riverside of TesseracT, but this entire album is still very listenable nine years later.

6. Marillion – F.E.A.R. (2016)
arton33729Marillion’s F.E.A.R. was my introduction to the band, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed diving back into their catalog. I’d have to say I think this is one of their best with Hogarth. Their latest album, “An Hour Before It’s Dark,” comes very close to it, but “Reprogram the Gene” knocks it down a peg for me. F.E.A.R. combines musical prowess with cultural critique to wonderful effect, even if I may disagree with Hogarth at points.

5. Riverside – Shrine of New Generation Slaves (2013)
riversideI had a hard time deciding which of Riverside’s three studio albums from the past decade to choose. Love, Fear and the Time Machine and Wasteland are both brilliant, and if I had allowed myself to choose multiple albums from the same artist in a top ten, Wasteland would probably be here too, but I think Shrine edges both of them out. It’s heavy, both musically and lyrically. Several of the songs turn into real earworms for me, and I’m never disappointed when I return to this record. And it’s another one on this list that I discovered several years after its release.

4. Oak – False Memory Archive (2018)
Oak false memory archiveOak is my favorite new band of the last decade. Both their 2013 (2016 release on CD) album Lighthouse and 2018’s False Memory Archive are brilliant albums, if not perfect. This record was my top album of 2018, and Lighthouse was my top album of 2016 (I didn’t realize at the time it had been released digitally earlier). The Norwegian melancholic aesthetic is dripping from both albums. It was hard to pick one of the two, but the closing track on False Memory Archive, “Psalm 51,” is one of the finest album closers I’ve ever heard. I think that gives this record the edge.

3. Devin Townsend – Empath (2019)
Devin Townsend - EmpathI was blown away by Devin Townsend’s Empath when it came out – so much so that I bought the 2CD deluxe version that year and the super deluxe version when Inside Out funded that project the next year. The record masterfully blends all the aspects of Devin’s career into a truly unique and truly Devin experience. It has the heavy bombast of Strapping Young Lad at points, yet it’ll soar into orchestral and even operatic highs elsewhere – or even at the same time. Pure musical theater in the best way. Devin’s vocal performance on “Why?” is stunning, and the message of hope on “Spirits Will Collide” is always a pleasant reminder that life is worth living. The production side of things, with Devin’s famed “wall of sound,” is unmatched in his career, or anyone else’s for that matter.

2. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015)

Steven_Wilson_Hand_Cannot_Erase_coverHere we come to one of the truly great albums of our time. I would certainly rank this in a top 10 best albums of all time. Back in 2015, this album was my number 3 pick, with The Tangent’s “A Spark in the Aether” coming in at number 1. Now I still think that’s a great record, and I wrestled with whether or not to include it in my top 10, but I think over time Wilson’s masterpiece has proven to be a generational album. Both the music and the story sound fresh, even seven years and many listens later. The themes of isolation and loneliness in city life (or life in general) will always be relatable. Someone 100 years from now could listen to this record, and while they may miss some of the references (even I still miss some of them), the underlying theme will still connect. That’s what places this record up there with the likes of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

1. Big Big Train – English Electric: Full Power (2013)
Big Big Train English Electric Full PowerThe defining band and defining album for the last decade of prog. Looking back, this record was the one that got me into the contemporary progressive rock scene. Returning to it today is a special treat, as I hope it always will be. It contains everything you might want out of a quintessentially “English” progressive rock band. It has the rock, the folk elements, the complex musicality, the well-told stories. And then there’s David Longdon’s voice, showing us his command of the material and his command of the upcoming several years in the prog scene. When I traveled to England in 2015 (which to me felt like a longer distance between its release than it feels between now and that visit – it’s weird how your perception of time changes as you grow older) I really wanted to listen to this album while being out in the hedgerows and fields. I can still remember sitting on a bus traveling between towns listening to English Electric (I wrote more about this in a piece back in 2016). There are a lot of good emotions connected to this record for me. But beyond that, Big Big Train showed us all that they were THE powerhouse in the new generation of prog bands. They were who all the younger bands were going to look up to for the next decade, and they did it all themselves. Sure, the journey began when Longdon boarded back in 2009 for The Underfall Yard, but English Electric was where they really picked up steam. Every album since has been magnificent, with many topping my best of lists in the ensuing years, but this one will always be the quintessential Big Big Train album for me.


As a coda to this review of the past decade in the best of prog, I want to give you the albums I picked as my favorites for the years 2014-2021 (I didn’t start my best of lists until ’14). I’ll include links to those lists as well. I find it interesting how I’ve “discovered” albums and bands even within the last year that have soared up my list, even if I missed them when they came out. Better late than never.

  • 2014Flying Colors – Second Nature  – I saw them live right after this was released. It’s a great record and a great band, but the poppier edge doesn’t stick with me as much as the records on my list above do.
  • 2015 – The Tangent – A Spark in the Aether – I shared above how Wilson’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. has grown in my estimation. I still think this is one of The Tangent’s finest records.
  • 2016 – Oak – Lighthouse – Even if its original release was 2013, this record still dominated my listening in 2016 and was my album of that year.
  • 2017Big Big Train – Grimspound, The Second Brightest Star, London Song, Merry Christmas EP – Enough said. Brilliant band. Brilliant music. Brilliant year for them.
  • 2018 – Oak – False Memory Archive
  • 2019 – Devin Townsend – Empath
  • 2020 – Pain of Salvation – Panther – I still think this is a great album. I listened to it yesterday at work, in fact. It was my intro to the band, and maybe I was shocked by how different it was from everything else I had been listened to in the genre. I’d still rank this record extremely highly, but I don’t know if I would put it at the top of the list if I were making a 2020 list today.
  • 2021 – Big Big Train – Common Ground – What can I say? I like Big Big Train.

Thanks for reading through all this. If you’ve been a prog fan throughout this past decade, I hope this brought back some good memories. If you’re new to prog, consider every album mentioned in this post as your homework over the coming weeks. Prepare to be blown away.

Here’s to hoping the next decade is even better.

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”

Bryan’s Best of 2020

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/

Continue reading “Bryan’s Best of 2020”

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”

Coming from Inside Out Music …

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.

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July

August

September

 

— Rick Krueger

Bandcamp Does It Again!

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.

So, to their credit, Bandcamp is doing it again.  And again.  And again.

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:

If your budget allows it, and you need a prog fix, why not do your shopping at Bandcamp this Friday?

 

— Rick Krueger

Progressive Music in a Time of Pandemic

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.

So where’s the good news?

For one thing, the plight of progressive musicians has resonated strongly with their fans. Reuter’s GoFundMe goal was met in just over a day; Pavkovic has had a newly positive response to MoonJune’s digital subscription program and discount offers. (Full disclosure: I’m a digital subscriber and I love it!)  And now Bandcamp is getting into the act:

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:

Then move on to other artists well loved on this blog:

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.

— Rick Krueger

kruekutt’s 2018 Favorites: New Albums

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 …

Continue reading “kruekutt’s 2018 Favorites: New Albums”