If 2017 is seen as a watershed year for prog, then the ninth studio album by The Tangent will be viewed as one of the albums responsible. This album marks the return of Yorkshire prog polymath Andy Tillison, following a heart attack he suffered after the 2015 release of previous album, Spark In The Aether (see review).
The line-up of the band has remained almost the same as before, Tillison on lead vocals, keyboards - and drums, is joined by Luke Machin (Maschine) on guitar, Jonas Reingold (Karmakanic) on bass and Theo Travis on saxophone and flute, plus the introduction of Marie-Eve de Gaultier (Maschine) on vocals and keyboards. Guest artists this time are author/ playwright and Chumbawamba founder Boff Whalley and DJ/ producer Matt Farrow.
What is immediately apparent is that this is more than just a musical expedition that takes us to the plains of Africa, mainland Europe and the North African coastline. This is also a clarion call to wake up and see how the media and political elite are manipulating our perceptions of what is happening in an increasingly fractured world.
The album's political bent may not be everyone's oeuvre but Tillison is an articulate, opinionated commentator, whose vision is compelling and coherent.
Against this backdrop, The Tangent paint a series of extraordinary musical landscapes, the opener Two Rope Swings, a wistful piano and flute led song, which takes us from Yorkshire to the African savannah. With true Tillison perception, it's a meditation on our belief that all is well out in the wild animal kingdom, where nothing could be further from the truth while poachers and trophy hunters are still at large.
Doctor Livingstone (I Presume) is the hidden masterpiece of this collection, a swirling, diverting, right-on instrumental cum jam session co-written by Tillison and Machin. It mines a rich seam of ridiculously beautiful interplay, from Machin's mesmerising guitar runs to Travis's sweet saxophone and Tillison's jazzy piano flurries, not to mention the fast and furious drumming.
Slow Rust is the pivotal track, Tillison's musical essay centred on the way the leaders and media are distorting the news agenda to manipulate the masses into a warped way of thinking. It's more a narrative piece in which de Gaultier's vocals add a hint of mystery and innocence as the story unfolds in five parts. The instrumental sections rise and fall in response to the tone of the narrative, sometimes angry, sometimes hypnotic, always affecting.
The Sad Story Of Lead & Astatine is the story of a friendship breaking up due to political differences and is told in a symphonic, Canterbury influenced way. On it, Reingold plays double bass and other high points include a beautiful flute interlude, full-on drum solo and extraordinary guitar sequences.
A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road is overtly political and with a huge twist. It's a musical satire on patriotism, influenced in no small part by the Brexit vote.
Tillison combines spoken narrative with flurries of compositional high jinks, infusing the melody line of the hymn I Vow To Thee My Country with a punky section while Whalley provides a vocal choir on it. Angry and acidic - you bet.
Bonus track Basildonexit is a little bit of dance-trance on which Farrow is engaged on decks, beats and loops.
This is a band whose agenda reflects the ever-changing state of the world and we are all the wiser for it. Its aural clarity is down to Machin's near perfect production, which again demonstrates how the erstwhile Tangent apprentice is now the band's young master.
Add to all this the extraordinary illustrations of DC Comics artist Mark Buckingham that so graphically depict the music, and there it is -a remarkable landmark album not just for The Tangent, but also for prog music in general.
***** Alison Reijman
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