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The Tangent

COMM

Review by Alison Reijman

The Tangent is one of the current cornerstones in British prog rock whose roots can be traced back to 1999 when Parallel or 90 Degrees supported The Flower Kings at a Classic Rock Society gig.  Three years later after some protracted discussions between the two camps, Andy Tillison, Parallel or 90 Degrees’ outspoken keyboards player and his band mate Sam Baine joined forces with the Kings’ iconic guitarist Roine Stolte, plus Jonas Reingold, Zoltan Csorsz and saxophonist David Jackson to become The Tangent and the highly acclaimed The Music That Died Alone was released.  Fast forward nearly a decade with numerous changes of personal within its ranks, including prog luminaries like Guy Manning and Jakko Jakszyk and a tie-up with Swedish prog rockers, Beardfish.  Other well-received albums such as The World We Drive Through, Not As Good As The Book and Down and Out in Paris and London followed leading up to A Place On A Shelf last year.

But throughout the Tangent’s journey, Tillison has established himself as another of the great British prog maverick leaders in the same vein as Robert Fripp and Dave Brock, sticking to their principles while the band cast list constantly evolves. However, in each instance, a new Tangent album is always a major event as they never fail to deliver something new, exciting and different and COMM is all that. This, their sixth album, has the overarching theme of communication and the continuing new channels being developed to deliver the endless flow of information and signals which is both pertinent and completely on-message. There is also an element of making deeper connections with life using all of them.

The collective, connective approach Tillison applies to the albums means that each one of them showcases specific artists, some known or some in the ascendancy. Every musical sorcerer has his apprentice and in this case, Tilison has found a young axe wizard in Luke Machin, evidence indeed that the future of prog is in very safe hands. At the same time, he has also called on two old friends Tony Latham on drums and Theo Travis on saxophone and flute to give strong foundation to the material. Time and time again, Tillison cuts loose in a synth frenzy to illustrate the unfolding story taking in the Facebook phenomenon right up to the use of social media to bring about the Arab Spring. What is so refreshing about this album is the way it shifts and evolves throughout going off at different tangents with no song hanging around too long in any one groove or outstaying its welcome before heading off on a completely different dynamic. The Tangent’s essential ingredients are all still all in here, the jazzy signatures of guitar, keyboards, Barrett’s beefy bass, but all within a refreshingly new and exciting world view. It all comes beautifully gift-wrapped in another mind-blowing Ed Unitsky cover, again evoking the COMM theme through a visual journey of wonderment and confusion. This is another album not to be missed, and remember, you read about Luke Machin here first. He is going to be a huge star.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Wiki Man

From the initial beeping of a fax machine, “The Wiki Man,” the longest track at 20:14 opens up with flurries of guitar morphing into driving keyboards, paring back into gentle piano and plaintive bass and then flies high with synthesiser against a driving beat. It tells a story of how we now define ourselves by the information we now receive and disseminate. Within it is a passage from pianist/synth player Andrew Roussak on “Competition Watershed,” his reward for winning a special competition to appear on this album: again proof of Tillison’s mentoring attitude to talented new players. And very good it is too.

The Mind’s Eye
This is built on a choppy jazzy organ motif which becomes a spacey meditation returning back to a powerful synth and guitar exposition, ebbing and flowing and eventually merging into “Shoot Them Down.”
Shoot Them Down
They take off in another direction on to a lyrical soundspace with bass player Jonathan Barrett (who has since left the band) leading the vocal harmonics and finishing with a stunningly mature guitar outpouring from Machin.
Tech Support Guy
The bubbling undercurrent of organ and synths introduces “Tech Support Guy,” a wonderful, jazzy tongue in cheek tribute to the guy who always gets the blame for IT system failures during the week who escapes his troubled day job by camping in the woods at weekends “where he’s billions of light years from their blame.”
Titanic Calls Carpathia
The sounds of waves and ghostly sonics lead into the finale “Titanic Calls Carpathia,” the definitive story of COMM according to the Tangent starting with the first ever radio SOS call ever made in April 1912 in this case from ship to ship. This they compare with another groundbreaking first nearly 60 years later when Apollo 13 and its occupants were rescued from an accident 200,000 miles away by way of a simple two way radio. Again it is a driving rhythm which pushes the piece along punctuated by Machin’s sonorous guitar.
Spirit of the Net
The first of two bonus tracks, the demon "Spirit of the Net" is a continuation of the COMM theme, a big fast flurry of a track with a powerful backbeat with a vocal passage giving way to another masterful, lucid guitar solo from Machin over some solid keyboard chords.
Fantasy Bootleg (Watcher of the Skies)
This is certainly the curio of the collection. Performed live, it is The Tangent’s take on the Genesis classic complete with that distinctive keyboard motif, driving rhythm, stabbing bass, and a suspiciously Gabrielesque vocal. There is even a twist in this track when the familiar “I get up, I get down” refrain from Yes’s “Close to the Edge” is sung along with some higher pitched vocals. There’s never a dull moment in Tangent land! 
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