This review is made based on an early release InsideOut Music has sent ProgSphere. This is not the 100% complete version of the album, and this review will be updated in the future when that new version is presented to us. That said, the album is pretty fucking great already.
When I finish writing this review I will email ProgSphere’s editor-in-chief who lives in Vancouver (almost four thousand kilometers from New York, where I live) to tell him to put the finishing touches on it before posting. After that I will tell Nick, who lives in Serbia (almost seven and a half thousand kilometers) that I’m done and that he can read it if he so desires. Such is the status quo in this positive feedback loop of technological growth that we call the age of the internet. Mr. Andy Tillison’s long-awaited opus COMM discusses the ups and downs of this GPS culture (see what I did there?) with his own trademarked brand of social commentary. With such masterpieces under his belt as A Place in the Queue and Down and Out in Paris and London, where does COMM stand in comparison?
First of all, to those of you who haven’t kept up with the band’s history, it’s hard to find another group that has changed lineups so frequently. The current lineup, which has probably lasted longer than any other, is certainly the best the band has ever been. Vocalist/keyboardist/composer Andy Tillison is of course still the lead and Jonathan Barrett’s incredible bass duties are retained from the previous album, but we have two newcomers in Luke Machin on guitar and Tony Latham on drums. Having seen this lineup play near London last November I must say that my previous statement in regards to their quality is definitely the case. The band feels much more cohesive than ever before, much like a single being with individual organs. That difference does bring a change in sound, however. Because the band is reduced to an almost-classic rock setup (keys, guitars, bass, drums + singer), the sound almost appears stripped-down in comparison to before. There are many fewer sweeping symphonic Hammond solos a la In Earnest, and there’s a distinct lack of the previously heard Canterbury influences, mostly because Theo Travis is no longer a “full member”, but rather a “guest”. He still appears, but much less prominently than before. Still, all of this is nothing but beneficial to the concept itself. Would it make much sense to produce a retrogressive symphonic/Canterbury album about THE INTERNET!? That would seem forced and corny. The Tangent does not do forced OR corny.
Instead we have something fresh, unique, and most of all, modern. The sweeping symphonic soundscapes appear when they’re necessary, but they are no longer the driving force behind the music. In this album’s case, the concept is what takes hold. There is an almost punkish, sometimes electronic energy to the music that certainly aids in generating this modern feel, but the music is of course never repetitive or simplistic like those styles of music generally are. This is nothing but pure, modern prog. This new sound is sure to upset some diehard fans at first. I must admit that I was taken aback at how odd The Tangent sounded at first, but after I kept listening I realized just what I was listening to. As Nick told me, “it’s a grower”. It certainly is.
The Wiki Man – The album opens up with this twenty minute epic, in true Tangent style. The track itself opens up with one of the most unpleasant sounds known to humankind – the dreaded sound of a dial-up modem. That sound is certainly going to take a few of you back to your childhoods the way it did me. In essence, this song seems to me to be about how the internet is simultaneously an amazing vehicle for ideas (such as when Mr. Tillison comments with wonder on how he can communicate instantly and easily with people who speak different languages and employ different alphabets) and a message board for idiots to pretend their opinions are fact. Overall the outlook is good, but with enough bad to be worth noticing. Musically this song is an avatar of every point I tried to make before about the band’s new sound. Where there are sweeping symphonic solos, they are here instead made with synthesizers instead of hammonds (I recognize that hammonds are technically a kind of synth, leave me alone!). Overall the entire piece doesn’t come close to recalling the music of something like In Earnest or Where Are They Now?, but it isn’t trying to either.
The Mind’s Eye – The first time I listened to this song I honestly didn’t like it. I found it chaotic and dissonant, nothing like what The Tangent is usually like. I recognized Andy’s old band Parallel or 90 Degrees amongst the chaos, but I didn’t connect it to Po90’s smoothness. However! On my second listen it clicked and I grew to appreciate what I was hearing much more than before. Much more than every other track on the album, Mind’s Eye is an acquired taste. As I write this I am listening to it for the fifth time, and I’m enjoying it more than ever before.
Shoot them Down – This song is a nice ballad, rare for The Tangent. It’s also Jonathan Barrett’s first writing credit for The Tangent, and I think he did a damn good job. It fits very well between the chaos of Mind’s Eye and the humor of the track to come as a solemn interlude of sorts in the center of the album.
Tech Support Guy – I love, love, love this track. As the title suggests, it’s a humorous farce about how all kinds of terrible problems happen when the company tech support guy goes missing for the weekend. In a musical sense, it’s my favorite piece. Andy’s famed hammonds return, and Theo even makes a spirited appearance here with his amazing flutes.
Titanic Calls Carpathia – This has very quickly become one of my favorite Tangent compositions. The piece is a discussion of major events in the development of technology (such as the Titanic and the Appolo 13 mission) interspersed with Tillisonian (I invented an artistic term!) social commentary. Thematically I’m reminded of GPS Culture because it discusses how our technology leads us to places we don’t necessarily need to go, but subjectively it’s very similar to The Wiki Man. Our modern communication technology is absolutely amazing for us, and while there is some bad with the good, the good is stronger.
COMM will be out on September 27th in Europe and September 26th in the U.S.
01. The Wiki Man
02. The Mind’s Eye
03. Shoot Them Down
04. Tech Support Guy
05. Titanic Calls Carpathia
* Andy Tillison – keyboards, vocals
* Jonathan Barrett – bass guitar, vocals
* Luke Machin – guitar, vocals
* Tony Latham – drums
Theo Travis – saxophones, flute
Nick Rickwood played the drums with the band during the Spring 2011 while Tony Latham was away. This includes album COMM.
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