Tangent Reviews

Tangent Reviews (8)

Album review : The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery

When Andy Tillison, leader and founding member of the Prog Rock ensemble The Tangent, first started putting together material for his 2003 debut “The Music That Died Alone”, little did he know that what started simply as a “one-off” project would evolve into one of the most unique-sounding and technically-impressive groups ever to come out of the British Isles.

It was through sheer hard work and the constant flow of top quality albums that The Tangent managed to make a name for themselves in the ever-increasing Prog Rock word – albums such as this year’s “The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery”.

My introduction to the band took place in 2011 via the amazing “COMM” and I am happy to report that the same things that amazed me in Tillison’s music back then continue to do so in the year 2017: a unique approach to progressive song-writing, one whose main focus is to convey messages of strong political/social value through a musical medium that simply refuses to sacrifice melody on the altar of technical dexterity.

What this achieves is making the music on offer accessible to the ‘untrained ear’ (note: an amazing feat considering the fact that the average duration of a Tangent song is fifteen minutes long) while allowing the more seasoned fans to enjoy top quality performances from some of the most technically gifted musicians this genre has to offer.

While the melody-driven opener “Two Rope Swings” contains enough evidence to support my argument with regards the musical direction/focus of this impressive album, no composition presents the band’s philosophy best that the twelve minute opus “Doctor Livingstone (I Presume)”.

It is a very difficult thing indeed to have a long piece of music convey a certain theme without vocals/lyrics lending a helping hand but this 70s-influenced Prog Jazz monster has managed to achieve exactly that through an intelligent cross-pollination of rhythms and melodies that may not be unique to but most certainly typical of this band’s approach to musical composition.

“Slow Rust” is a protest song with strong funk influences, courtesy of bassist-extraordinaire Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings, Karmakanic) and paves the way perfectly for the sixteen minute “The Sad Story of Lead and Astatine” – a composition which allows all band members to flex their technical muscles.

Tillison certainly saved the best for last as “A Few Steps Towards the Wrong Road” combines elements from all the previous compositions on offer while featuring excellent performances by guitar wizard Luke Machin and Marie-Eve de Gautier – a singer/vocalist whose supporting themes were integral in helping the album convey high levels of emotional intensity to the listener.

Every time I contemplate the reasons that make me love Rock music so much and why I have been its avid fan for more than three decades, the answer I give myself has always been the same: because, together with classical, it is the only type of music as far as I am concerned, that provides entertainment and spiritual stimulation in equal measure.

Is “The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery” an album that fills that criteria? Most certainly!

Get yourself a copy, sit back, close your eyes and allow Andy Tillison to take you on the most wonderful of musical journeys available so far this year – you will not regret it, I promise! 

****1/2

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ProgRadar – The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery

The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery’ by The Tangent succeeds at every level, from the incredible depth and texture of the colours in Mark Buckingham’s arresting album art to the pacing of the expansive musical compositions. Band leader Andy Tillison has talked about working to recover his ‘mojo’ after a long hospital stay, and ‘Slow Rust’ makes clear that he’s found it, perhaps in greater quantity even than before. In particular, the album comfortably engages an intriguing dialectic between global politics and individual relationships; broad social commentary and hyper-specific lyrical descriptions; fury and compassion; and the musical energies of seasoned and youthful collaborators. Along the way, Tillison & Co. play jazz, funk, punk, prog, techno, ambient, and heavy rock to great effect.

The album opens with the “pocket symphony” Two Rope Swings, which packs the musical and thematic expanse of a 20 minute epic into a mere 6.5 minutes. Each member of the band turn in lovely performances here, including newcomer Marie-Eve de Gaultier, whose vocals emphasize the mournful aspect of realizing our ignorance concerning those who live in a different skin from our own—whether human or otherwise. Tillison’s wonderfully detailed lyrics express the global import of the song through their very specificity:

And we think Africa is like some fairyland/Like in the picturebooks we read when we played on the swings/Lions and tigers and wildebeests and zebra…Kilimanjaro

What do we expect from each other, when we make our adult choices with the naivete of a child reading picture books on a rope swing? When we can’t even place an entire species of animals on the right continent, imagining African lions as living side by side with Asian tigers?

Tillison, Machin & Travis

Doctor Livingstone (I Presume), besides possessing the perfect, playful title for a long instrumental, showcases the band’s seemingly limitless musical muscle. Leaping right over the gate with lithe bass, rolling organ, and a melodic synth lead, the track quickly sets the stage then shines the spotlight on guitarist Luke Machin’s searing but instantly accessible soloing. Theo Travis provides plenty of nuanced saxes and flutes along the way, while piano and acoustic guitar occasionally accent the trading off between bass, synth, guitar, and sax solos. What begins as a relatively mellow jazz exercise rolls to full boil midway with some heavier riffs and shredding from Machin; not content to climax at its most intense moment, the track slides into a more classically jazz section that highlights even further the god-level bass genius of Jonas Reingold. Taken all together, this instrumental melds early 70’s jazz-influenced prog with mid-60’s Impulse! Records jazz experimentation. It also succeeds as a test for a new addition to The Tangent’s line-up: if you want to prove the mettle of your new drummer, how better than with an extended jazz work-out? The spry young lad taking over drum controls makes a great showing here that matches but never overwhelms the contributions of his bandmates, and it’s quite the surprise that this talent has not been tapped by the band on previous outings.* Perhaps the snare could have been a bit punchier to better complement Reingold’s monster tone, or the crash treated with less decay, but those are minor differences of production opinion that don’t detract from a stellar debut performance.

Andy Tillison

On an album replete with highlights, title track Slow Rust is clearly the centrepiece. All the righteous indignation, cynical wisdom, and nimble musicality of the album are placed on full display for 22 intense minutes. On the face of it, this song is inspired by the same series of recent events that prompted A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road, namely, the horrendous slandering of “migrants” by the UK press in the wake of 2016’s Brexit vote. But Slow Rust is this and so much more. Rooting around behind the mere occurrence of such hateful news reporting, Tillison explores the contributing factors. How is it that celebrity gossip, local events, and national politics coexist on equal footing in the papers? We all know that this paper has this party bias and that one another, but how do the potentially myriad perspectives of numerous writers and editors fall out along such neat lines, and why must we find a ready group on which to place the blame for our perceived problems? When there’s profits to be had, and fear and hatred turn a profit, any story becomes about the insecurities of the reader; the actual story of another person’s hardship gets twisted into the story of how an influx of persecuted refugees affects my life:

Ah, when the helpless are a threat/What does that say about the rest of us?

Furthermore, when only binary choices are on offer, the rejection of one point of view becomes the ready adoption of another, and either way someone will be waiting to accept your payment. Even Education, the great salvation of the Enlightenment, is implicated. If schools are just an ideas factory for “Corporate automatons,” then the same principle of profit and binary choices will drive all learning:

Become a teacher and bow your head/To the passing fashions where you get led/Recite your mantras, but say your prayers/’Cause what else have you done? The future’s theirs/To sell textbooks/That’s all they’re here to do

Even for a Prog Epic, this is an incredibly expansive track, though it never feels stretched or repetitive. There’s no thesis, but it’s focused polemic more than angry rant. It also seriously rocks. Tillison turns in a number of noteworthy synth and vocal performances, especially in the funky and heavy “Binary Choices” section that includes effected spoken word vocals and a reference to President Biff. Reingold is, again, a force-beyond-nature on bass throughout the song, though de Gaultier is the key ingredient that lifts everything above the sum of its parts. Here and elsewhere on the album, the soft timbre of her voice pervades every open space, simultaneously smoothing, undergirding, and highlighting whatever else is happening musically. Depending on Tillison’s role at any moment, this includes supporting the more mournful notes in his voice or providing the comforting sweater counterpoint to his angry grandpa affectation.

Luke Machin

De Gaultier’s vocals are also essential to the emotion of The Sad Story of Lead and Astatine, as she permeates the very pretty and hopeful chorus to an otherwise sad tale. Her reassuring suggestion for a repaired relationship sharpens the sadness of the song once you realize that of course, as per the song’s title, this advice will be ignored in favour of doubling down on prideful posturing. As such, this track provides the personal counterpoint to the album’s finale: in the microcosm, destructive pride and redirected fear can lead a person, as well as a country, a few steps down the wrong road. Musically, The Sad Story leaves plenty of room for jazzy solos, including some gorgeous flute work by Travis, a healthy dose of flittering piano, a classic drum solo, and more arresting guitar shredding from Machin.

Theo Travis

The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery’ culminates in the Prog-Punk Theatre of A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road. The punk elements are noteworthy, but the spirits of Emerson and Lake are as strong here as that of Johnny Rotten, Tillison playing some particularly nice analogue synths to punctuate the story. Like Slow Rust, this song is about the post-Brexit rise of hatred toward those of ‘questionable origin’, but it’s also about the historical recurrence of inhumane attitudes, and serves as a cautionary tale of the dangers in not learning our history lessons already. Alternating between spoken word narration, explosive rock bombast, proggy excess, jazzy swagger, and punk aggression, this epic competes for “most quintessential Tangent track” as well as “most timely political commentary by a musical artist.” If ever a polemic needed pressing to a side of vinyl, it’s this one. When the album reaches its depressing conclusion, be sure to immediately start it over again. The opening strains of Two Rope Swings, with de Gualtier’s call of “halcyon days,” take on an elegiac character when placed immediately following A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road.

With ‘The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery (or, Where Do We Draw the Line Now?)The Tangent have progressed by retaining everything that made their previous work great while seamlessly integrating these elements with new musical contributions that hold up to the weighty subject matter. The album burns with all the conscience and compassion called for by our times. It simultaneously maintains a spirit of joy and playfulness in the performances. A clear contender for Album of the Year, ‘Slow Rust’ is wonderfully immediate while reserving unfathomable depths to be explored across repeated listens for years to come.

*This reviewer is simultaneously sincere and facetious: yes, I’m aware that the drummer is Andy Tillison himself. It is genuinely a surprise that Tillison’s drumming was not previously featured, because he’s quite good.

Released 21st July 2017

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The Progressive Aspect - Slow Rust Review

Andy Tillison has always been a composer who wears his heart on his sleeve, and on The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery he’s in full-on political commentary mode, lashing the Brexiteers and the anti-refugee brigade with whip-like lyrics.

It stands in stark contrast to 2015’s A Spark In The Aether, which was generally a sunny, upbeat and wistful album that delved deeply into Tillison’s Canterbury influences. But in between there’s been the Brexit referendum and Trump and Le Pen and his own health problems – a heart attack that not only laid him low for some time but also made him fear he had lost his musical mojo.

His return came with the 17-minute A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road – a powerful, uncompromising blast at the ugly face of British nationalism and the Brexit campaign with a sinister warning at the end. Almost punk-like in its intensity and anger, it had Tillison blasting out a political poem over the top of a heavy, frantic backing with ironic snatches of Gustav Holst’s I Vow To Thee My Country.

It pretty much divided opinion down the same voting lines as the referendum, with Brexiteers harrumphing that politics should be kept out of prog, while Remainers sniggered behind their hands and placed their pre-orders.

And that’s a bit of a shame because it distracted from what was, instrumentally, a thoroughly entertaining piece of music, packed full of all the influences that make The Tangent such a unique listening experience – there’s jazz, rock, prog and punk jostling for attention.

Trouble is, political songs tend to be of the moment and therefore have a short shelf-life. It’s difficult to see A Few Steps… becoming a well-loved standard – but it is still miles better than Roger Waters’ rather tired impersonation of Victor Meldrew on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

More successful perhaps is Slow Rust, the 22-minute centrepiece of the album, which looks at the refugee crisis first from the viewpoints of the gutter press and the twitterati and then from those who are forced to make the perilous, frequently deadly journey from their homes to a safe haven across the sea. Tillison’s strength on these long pieces is his sense of rhythm and melody and his ability to get something catchy and interesting going almost immediately. While some bands test the listener’s patience with drawn-out, portentous intros and drearv repetition, Tillison gets down to brass tacks ASAP, and the track fairly bounces along through its many scenes and sections.

His vocals – not the most tuneful in prog, although they serve his songs well – blend beautifully with Marie-Eve de Gaultier’s and the effect reminds me of the Northettes on the Hatfield and the North albums – it softens and warms the vocals, sandpapering the edges off some of the harsher lyrics.

And the lyrics certainly make their point – “They’ll take you on at the Daily Mail,” he cries, “and use your talents to whip up hate.” “We came back from the future and Biff was the President.” “It’s like a jungle – sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.” The forgotten machinery that’s slowly rusting represents the crumbling transport routes refugees are forced to use as they try to reach the lands of milk and Ipads – the CD artwork shows twisted rail lines and rotting locomotives.

These are the two angriest tracks on the album – elsewhere things get a bit more reflective and less angsty. The opener, Two Rope Swings, began life as Tillison’s contribution to the Harmony for Elephants project. Tillison describes it as a pocket symphony, encapsulating everything The Tangent represent in 6.5 concise – by prog standards – minutes.

It opens with solo piano and Tillison’s plaintive vocals before running through the whole gamut of The Tangent’s musical styles, focussing on jazzy keyboards and Luke Machin’s expressive electric guitar.

Doctor Livingstone (I Presume) is an instrumental, the first piece of music Tillison wrote after his heart attack – the title represents him finding his muse again. It’s nearly 12 minutes of joyful, dramatic and intricate jazz fusion.

But the highlight for me is The Sad Story of Lead And Astatine, a 16-minute tour de force that starts as a moving ballad but then turns into the most fabulous jazz-rock instrumental, with Tillison and Machin trading keyboard and guitar riffs while Theo Travis intersperses with the flute. There’s even a drum solo from Tillison – who plays drums throughout the album and does so with great precision and power – and a brief bass solo from Jonas Reingold. It’s evidence that when The Tangent really let the jazz vibe take hold of them there are precious few prog bands who can keep up.

So to conclude: There are elements of this album that some listeners may find a little preachy, even objectionable if they fail to share the writer’s political views. But look beyond that and there is gorgeous, superbly played music here and moments of sheer joy and beauty.

Welcome back, Andy.

[You can read Kevan’s recent interview with Andy Tillison for TPA HERE.]

TRACK LISTING
01. Two Rope Swings (6:30)
02. Doctor Livingstone (I Presume) (11:59)
03. Slow Rust (22:31)
04. The Sad Story Of Lead And Astatine (15:59)
05. A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road (17:31)
~ Bonus track:
06. Basildonxit (5:21)

Total Time – 79:51

MUSICIANS
Andy Tillison – Keyboards, Vocals, Drums
Jonas Reingold – Bass
Luke Machin – Guitars, Vocals
Theo Travis – Sax, Flutes
Marie-Eve de Gaultier – Keyboards, Vocals

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: InsideOut
Country of Origin: U.K./Sweden/Belgium
Date of Release: 21st July 2017

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The Tangent – The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery (Album Review)

It is clear that Progressive Rock musicians care about the current state of the world and like to provide commentary on it (have a listen, for example, to Marillion’s “F.E.A.R.” and Steve Hackett’s “Night Siren”.)  The Tangent’s Andy Tillison is no exception. Consequently, commentary on the ‘border wall politics’ prevalent in today’s world, the role of the media in this phenomenon, and the current plight of international refugees, form much of the lyrical content of The Tangent’s latest album “The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery”.

Tillison is highly respected as the driving force behind The Tangent, being not only its main composer, but also its keyboard player and vocalist. But what is not universally known is that Tillison is also a highly competent drummer. On this studio release (The Tangent’s ninth), Tillison performs all drums, keyboards, and some vocals. He is joined by guitar virtuoso Luke Machin, bass maestro Jonas Reingold, sought-after saxophonist/flautist Theo Travis, and new member Marie-Eve de Gaultier (Maschine) on keyboards and vocals. It is an impressive line-up indeed. There are also guest appearances from author/Chumbawamba vocalist Boff Whalley, and a DJ/producer named Matt Farrow. (Yes, that’s right, a DJ – more about that later.)

Read on The Prog Report Site Four of the five songs on the album could be classified as “epics”, varying between 12 and 22 minutes in length, and those epics traverse the political topics described above, in detail.  Opening track “Two Rope Swings” is the exception. Not only is the song shorter, at 6 minutes, but it also deals with alternative subject matter, namely the fate of wild animals in the 21st Century consumer economy. The song is almost a synopsis of the musical style that is expanded upon in the subsequent songs, only with more use of vocal and guitar harmony. De Gaultier’s gorgeous voice is introduced here and it immediately complements Tillison’s baritone in a very admirable way. Female backing vocals suit The Tangent’s music – so much so that it is strange to think that this is the first time a female voice has appeared on a Tangent album in 10 years. I have become extremely fond of de Gaultier’s voice in a short time – she brings a unique flavor and a great sweetness to Tillison’s vocal lines. Reingold’s staggering, stuttering bass runs are immediately apparent, Machin is massive, Travis’ flourishes are ubiquitous, the instrumentation is strong, and the Tangent are back. The animals in the song might be dying out, but this particular musical herd seems to be thriving.

Second song “Doctor Livingstone I Presume” is an instrumental jazz-rock tour-de-force built around a polished Tillison/Machin riff. This expansive clarion riff, in various guises, pops in like a welcome friend throughout the piece, which explores (pun intended) every possible avenue, giving the band room to flex its instrumental muscles. From jazzy flute to heavy cinematic guitar-scapes, all the instrumental theatrics one would expect from such fine musicians, are there. This song shows The Tangent’s intent to show that they have returned, with a fearless instrumental bang. It is interesting that Tillison’s drumstick count-in at the song’s start is not edited out of the master recording (perhaps an intentional message that he is still very much in control.)

“Slow Rust”, the 22-minute core of the album, returns the band to more traditional Prog vocal fare, and unashamedly shows Tillison’s love of traditional Prog giants like UK, Yes and Van der Graaf Generator. The lyrics are suitably weighty, dealing with such topics as the Illuminati, tabloid reporting, fake news and the victimization of migrants by the press. It is a scathing criticism of populist media, with snarling, in-your-face lyrics like “We can build an army”, “you are a traitor”, “corporate automatons”, “to sell papers…it’s all we’re here to do”, and “one day they’ll tell their story how they followed their railway lines across the sea so they could break free”. Musically, it is again apparent that de Gaultier’s vocal counterpoints somehow make Tillison’s voice sound better than ever. She really is a welcome addition to this band (not that the rest of the band are anything less than virtuosos when it comes to their own vocal contributions.) The verse, in which the vocalists play off each-other over a slow, intense snare shuffle, is my favourite part of the album and the bridge “We don’t know who’s coming in…” is a close second. The chorus “Rusting, rusting slowly…” is jarring, in keeping with its theme. Instrumentally, the song keeps up with the subject matter with kaleidoscopic variations that are both progressive and excellent, and Machin’s solos are as immense as Reingold’s thunderbolt bass-lines. In typical Tangent fashion, keyboards form the prevalent foundation in most parts, only this time there are two ivory-tinklers, and it works. It is also possibly on this song that Farrow’s contributions are most apparent, but his “DJ” title notwithstanding, this song is about as far-removed from dance music as you will ever find. It is a full-on Prog extravaganza. The song climaxes in a moment of mighty metal madness, and ends with a slow and contemplative reconciliation that reflects Tillison’s mood about the state of the world. Epic indeed.

“The Sad Story of Lead and Astatine” is a slight departure for The Tangent, in that every member is seemingly given a solo spotlight. ‘Astatine’ might be a radioactive chemical element, and the song is indeed luminous jazz-prog, but the lyrics are more personal. It starts slowly, with Jonas Reingold playing a traditional double bass for the first time on a Tangent album, while Tillison plays some of the drum-parts with brushes. It is difficult to know which keyboardist features at any given point, but by default, jazz plaudits are due to both. Travis and Machin are given much space to impress in the various jazzy meanderings, and Reingold delivers a bass solo that is just astounding (dare I say ‘incandescent’?) The song builds to a galloping crescendo in which the whole band shines. The flame-haired leader of the band delivers a tasteful drum solo, and his prowess behind the kit is impressive. Amidst the various solos there is even a scat vocal/guitar part, in which de Gaultier easily keeps up with Machin, again showing her value to the band. The guitar climax is very fluid and satisfying, and admirably exploits the affinity between jazz and Prog.

Last song “A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road” is largely a political poem with complex musical backing, since the lyrics are in large part spoken more than sung. And cutting lyrics they are – Tillison is determined to impart his angry message about nationalism, money, power and greed. It is true that spoken word can become tiresome if one is not firmly attached to the message, but Tillison’s passion reduces the risk of this. The 17-minute epic includes a cynical rendition of familiar patriotic anthem “I Vow To Thee”, woven into the fabric of the song with alternative lyrics, leading into a biting punk-rock break that exhibits Tillison’s anger perfectly. Then, a unique ending is presented: Brexit seems to be in the forefront of his mind, but Tillison handles it in a very clever way (spoiler alert): “Just days after the decision was made, the new leaders of the country sat down together and began to talk about how they would make good on the pledges they had made. Within minutes any casual observer would have realized that these guys haven’t even made a plan. For example, it’s very easy to promise that you will rid the country of a migrant problem. It’s a lot more difficult to actually deliver it.” The new leader proceeds to delegate the settlement of the problem to a senior official in his new government, and the response comes: “Jawohl Mein Führer”. With something short of a sneer, Tillison adds: “Well, what did you think I was talking about? Please wake up.”

Literal but effective, “A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road” is one of the most interesting Prog songs I have heard recently. It takes brazen risks in that it incurs the possibility of alienating the listener due to the overwhelming lyrical weight. But here’s the thing – I found myself wanting to listen to it again and again, even though I knew (by then) where the lyrics were going. The song is weighty but eminently listenable. This epic exhibits Andy Tillison’s musical declaration that he is, indeed, far from spent.

The album has a sumptuous warmth and is well produced by the prodigy that is Luke Machin, who gives it a full, clear and pleasing mix. It features high-quality artwork reflecting the migrants’ journey on the railway tracks and the other themes, from Marvel/DC Comics artist Mark Buckingham.

In 2015, Andy Tillison suffered a heart attack after which he took some time to recover. Some worried that he might not return to his previous levels of musical productivity and quality, but they need not have feared. On the contrary, this is the best Tangent release since 2003’s debut “The Music That Died Alone”. ‘The Slow Rust of Modern Machinery’ is complex, adventurous and clever, and it succeeds in blending traditional Prog and jazz-fusion expectations with the best type of forward-thinking musical chicanery. From the literary perspective, the album approaches difficult lyrical themes with a bold aggression that I have seldom heard outside the realm of pure poetry. This approach could easily have failed as being too literal, but somehow, Tillison’s passion tempers this, and the album undoubtedly succeeds. From the musical perspective, it is simply masterful, as one would expect from musicians of this calibre. The Tangent are indeed back.

Released on July 21st, 2017 on InsideOut Music

Key Tracks: Two Rope Swings, Dr. Livingstone

1. Two Rope Swings 06:32
2. Dr. Livingstone (I Presume) 11:58
3. Slow Rust 22:31
4. The Sad Story Of Lead and Astatine 16:00
5. A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road 17:31

Line-Up

Andy Tillison (Keyboards, vocals and for the
first time on a Tangent record – drums)
Jonas Reingold (Bass)
Luke Machin (Guitars and vocals)
Theo Travis (Saxes and flutes)
Marie-Eve de Gaultier (Keyboards and vocals)

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