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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Tiles

Fly Paper

Review by Julie Knispel

Detroit’s Tiles is back with a vengeance on Fly Paper, their fifth album (and first studio effort in four years).  The album reunites the band’s “classic” line-up for a full-length collaboration for the first time since 1997’s Fence the Clear.  Original drummer Mark Evans (last heard on a Tiles album on parts of Presents of Mind, released in 1999) is joined by founding members Chris Herin (guitars, keyboards), Jeff Whittle (bass) and Paul Rarick (vocals) on 8 tracks of diverse and heavy progressive rock, with nods and winks to 1970’s hard rock that sound genuine, not forced.

Continuing a tradition that stretches back to 1999’s Presents of Mind, “Sacred & Mundane” features a guest musician...none other than Rush’s Alex Lifeson, who adds some fantastic acoustic and electric guitar parts (the band says all the predominant guitars on this track are Alex’s).  Lifeson is not the only special guest performing on Fly Paper, either; Max Webster’s Kim Mitchell contributes to the semi-epic “Dragons Dreams & Daring Deeds,” Alannah Myles (“Black Velvet”) adds her distinctive vocals to “Back & Forth,” and Hugh Syme (the cover artist) contributes keyboards on “Crowded Emptiness.”  Above and beyond this impressive coterie of guests, Nate Mills (vocals), Sonya Mastick (percussion), and discipline front man Matthew Parmenter (vocals, keyboards) contribute throughout (of note, this is the third collaboration between Parmenter and Tiles).

Past efforts have been compared to Rush, for reasons both fair and unfair.  The fact that Terry Brown has produced or mixed the majority of their efforts has led to a sound that often shares similar sonic touchpoints to Rush’s material, while earlier albums have perhaps exhibited a bit of influence in songwriting that may have made some listeners uncomfortable, worried that it was more imitation than influence.  As the band has grown and, yes, progressed, these influences have fallen further to the side, and on Fly Paper, Tiles showcases material that is well and truly theirs.  Heavy and willing to get in your face, while at the same time just as likely to pull back and show gentleness, Tiles is a band that will impress a wide range of progressive music fans.  Fly Paper is their strongest effort to date, meriting a closer look and repeated listens.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Hide In My Shadow
Tiles opens their 5th studio album with a crunch and a bang; “Hide in my Shadow” is a tasty rocker with loads of distorted guitar and a punchy, insistent drum line that pushes the song forward.  Paul Rarick’s vocals are pleasant, layered and multitracked to add richness to the mix.  As a statement of purpose, letting the listener know that Tiles is back with a vengeance, “Hide in my Shadow” works wonders.

Sacred and Mundane
A deceptive acoustic opening leads into a second blast of hard rock power.  “Sacred and Mundane” as a title features some of the same kind of wordplay that would entice and excite Rush’s Neil Peart.  “Sacred & Mundane” is a fantastic rocker, with Mark Evans’ drumming adding flourishes under a thick mix of guitar and bass courtesy of Chris Herin and Jeff Whittle.  The occasional forays into acoustics add to the song, showcasing a band that deserves far more attention in a world full of Spock’s Beard and Flower Kings-influenced bands than they get.
Back & Forth
“Back & Forth” is built around choppier beats, with a feel that to this listener seems to shift almost imperceptibly between Spanish and (believe it or not) reggae.  Choral vocals are a nice addition, while the song benefits from producer Terry Brown’s experience; acoustic guitars chime through the heaviness, while a decent sense of dynamics exists throughout…quiet bits sound quiet, loud bits sound loud.
Landscrape
Another play on words, “Landscrape” bursts from the speakers like an angry beast, all claws and teeth snapping and cracking and growling.  The mix is bass heavy and filled with crunchy baritone guitar sounds, perhaps one of the band’s heaviest efforts to date.  One of the shortest compositions on Fly Paper at just 4:33, this is a song that in a perfect world would be getting all kinds of airplay on modern rock radio.  Certainly more interesting than anything currently in heavy rotation, it is every bit as heavy as your Stone Sours or Hinders or what have you.
Markers
Lest one think Tiles is all rock and roll and heaviness, “Markers” shows the band exhibiting a gentleness and restraint that shows their diversity while also making the heaviness all the more heavy.  This is not a toss off track by any extent of the imagination; the opening two minutes are all about passion and honesty in delivery, while the quicker bits that evolve out of this still feel like the same song, rather than two disparate compositions glued together out of necessity.  There’s a sense of melancholy pervading this track…world weariness and sadness drip from Paul Rarick’s vocal delivery, while Herin’s solos are down in the mix, sounding almost ghostly and adrift in the mix.
Dragons, Dreams & Daring Deeds
An alliterative title to be sure, “Dragons, Dreams & Daring Deeds” is one of the album’s most expansive composition, clocking in at just over eight minutes.  Crunchy guitar alternates with layered vocalese as the track opens, with instrumental showcases dominating the stage.  Herin shows himself to be equally adept and bluesy, bent note playing and glistening, Police-like atmospheres.  Whittle and Marks lay down a thick, deep groove, while Rarick’s tenor vocals are fragile, soaring over the shifting musical landscape beneath him.  One might think this could have been included on the band’s 1999 release Presents of Mind, as it feels very similar stylistically to their 14-minute epic “Reasonable Doubt” from that same album, yet this should not be seen as evidence of a band repeating themselves.  Rather, it feels more like a band taking a fond look back at where they came from while moving forward at the same time.  The additional time given to this track allows it to develop a little more, moving in different directions while also maintaining the elements that make Tiles the band they are.
Crowded Emptiness
The epic “Dragons, Dreams & Daring Deeds” is followed by the album’s shortest track.  “Crowded Emptiness” has a bit of a sing-song feel to it, with plenty of layered vocals, strummed acoustic and chiming electric guitar.  After the intensity of “Dragons, Dreams & Daring Deeds,” it’s a welcome respite to have the band pull back and give the listener a bit of a rest.  This is not a throwaway, however…Tiles has put as much into this track as any other on the album, with layers of sound building a fun and enjoyable track.

Hide & Seek
Fly Paper closes with the “Hide & Seek,” the album’s longest track.  This piece sees them moving back toward the heaviness that typified the opening half of the album, mixed with just a touch of light and shade.  One thing that has impressed throughout is the richness of Chris Herin’s guitar playing; rhythm work is thick and crunchy without losing definition, while his soloing has just the right touch of hotness to cut through without breaking up.  Rarick’s vocals are a joy to listen to as well…alone, his clear tenor is one of the best in the genre, while layered and choir-ed, well…it’s like a host of angels singing for you.  The song almost seems to shift gears around 3:30 in, as the band fades away, making room for acoustic guitar, synth and gentle vocals.  “Hide & Seek” is an incredibly diverse track, showcasing all the styles and musical colours Tiles can bring to bear.
 
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