The world of contemporary prog seems to solidify on bands who either comply to the museum piece values of the 1970s progressive rock or make it a priority to deny being a part of the movement at all – and then there’s THE TANGENT, an English progressive rock outfit, which wears a plethora of hats simultaneously. In short, the band plays modern symphonic prog somewhat similar to SPOCK’S BEARD and THE FLOWER KINGS, taking the occasional stab at the classic Canterbury blend of jazz and rock. Apart from the obvious vintage prog influences, you can hear subtle traces of bands such as THE ISLEY BROTHERS, STEELY DAN, and RETURN TO FOREVER. That is to say, THE TANGENT is eclectic prog of the finest caliber. One of the trademarks of Andy Tillison – whose creative affair the band has largely been ever since its formation in 2002 – is to pack more ideas into single tracks than most bands do in an entire album. Prog fans with an acquired taste for such will be delighted to know THE TANGENT is releasing their eleventh studio album, “Auto Reconnaissance,” on 21 August 2020 via InsideOut Music.
The album is yet another eclectic set of songs celebrating the golden age of prog with a steady foothold in the 1970s, while incorporating elements of fusion jazz, modern R&B, funk, and soul. By mixing a riot of different flavors, the band continues the saga of their previous albums such as “Proxy,” released in 2018, without sounding like a ragbag of sonic mish-mash. With a staple line-up on the last couple of albums, the band has tightened its chops. THE TANGENT sounds more like a genuine group rather than a mere Tillison project now. The familiar “Tillison-sound” is still intact, however: that signature mixture of dark and light, the occasional jazz-turn, and lyrics that are charged with razor-sharp sarcasm. Someone with a nasty mouth and the attention span of a goldfish might write the band off as a bunch of boomers ranting about the world of today. Since I’m middle-aged myself, it works. I’m not sure what the younger prog demographic would make of the band though. It’s definitely not DREAM THEATER.
“Life on Hold” opens the album wearing the old-school prog badge proudly on its sleeve. Hammond organ, vintage synths, and fusion-tinged guitars lay down a groove that treads the same waters as STEELY DAN‘s hits from the 1970s. Although the title bears a striking relevance in a world where a virus has put the life on hold for people all over the world, the song wasn’t written about the lockdowns. It’s more about the tragedy of a life unlived, albeit with a tone filtered through the prism of dry British humor. The subtle touch of sarcasm is also the defining factor in the lyrics of the next track, “Jinxed in Jersey.” The song is almost like the breakdown from Sting‘s song, “Saint Augustine in Hell,” stretched to the length of a 16-minute epic, in terms of the narrative style and dry humor. Musically, the jazz plot thickens as the song throws ECM-tinged smooth jazz à la Pat Metheny in a blender with a good chunk of breakbeat electronica that sounds as if Aphex Twin had restrained himself from his most outrageous IDM maneuvers and had a go at Tom Waits‘ standup-like “Frank’s Wild Years.”
In the current prog climate, the pastel-colored ghost of 1980s jazz-rock fusion might be a hard sell even amidst the most eclectic prog-heads. It’s something that is often termed as “elevator music,” whether as a musically biased act of discrimination or (at times) for a reason. “Under Your Spell” manifests the strange musical philosophy of THE TANGENT with a cheesy R&B ballad that would have made THE HUMAN LEAGUE proud back in the day. The follow-up track, “The Tower of Babel,” does very little to dissolve the strong fumes of the 1980s.
The centerpiece on the album is the track “Lie Back & Think of England,” in which the band outperforms itself by mixing each of its signature elements into a 28-minute epic that’s in turns emotive, jazzy, oddball, and deliberately groovy. Occasionally, the streamlined soundscapes resonate with a faint aura of neo-prog forefathers CAMEL, whereas the sleazy R&B grooves of the following track, “The Midas Touch,” take a deep nod toward something completely different – radio-friendly funk and soul. I say “radio-friendly” because the song is not exactly reminiscent of the dirty, sweaty stuff such as James Brown or THE JIMMY CASTOR BUNCH, more like the bands such as LEVEL 42 minus the slapping bass.
The album comes with a bonus track, “Proxima,” and if you thought the band had already shown you all of the tricks hidden up its sleeve, you might need to think again. The song is a 13-minute journey into the ambient terrains of Brian Eno and PINK FLOYD that evolves into a jazzy jam session. It is indeed a fine way to bring the album to a close. It is also a song that demonstrates the strong points of the band magnificently.
THE TANGENT likes to cook up a strange brew of fusion jazz, vintage prog, and electronica with a punky attitude. Even in the broad world of progressive rock, the band sticks out like a sore thumb – or a middle finger. “Reconnaissance” is a military term for the observation of a region to ascertain strategic features. With the release of the new album, “Auto Reconnaissance,” the strategic move of Andy Tillison at the helm of THE TANGENT seems to be to champion the most unique kind of prog with a talented group of fearless and brilliant-minded musicians. Certainly, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but those of us who aren’t intimidated by lengthy jazz-rock epics of the strange kind will find the album most rewarding.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Life On Hold
- Jinxed In Jersey
- Under Your Spell
- The Tower of Babel
- Lie Back & Think of England
- The Midas Touch
- Proxima (Bonus Track)
Andy Tillison – Vocals, Lyrics, Keyboards, Composer
Jonas Reingold – Bass
Theo Travis – Sax, Flute
Luke Machin – Guitar
Steve Roberts – Drums