The Tangent: A Spark In The Aether

The history of prog, the American dream, and other asides…

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Who’s the band that gets all the chicks? The Tangent! You’re damn right…’

Maybe you weren’t expecting a reference to Isaac Hayes’ Theme From Shaft on The Tangent’s eighth album, but then you probably weren’t anticipating namechecks for Jack Bauer, Bruce Willis and Sandra Bullock either. What a curious, inspired record this is, both satirising and homaging the history of progressive rock, while shooting off into, er, tangents about Hollywood and the ardours of lugging equipment up fire escapes in Leeds. And also working up some impressive funk. For all its comic asides and mischief, there’s a sense of poetry about it.

Witty, self-aware and full of in-jokes for prog aficionados.

Twelve years into a career that’s flickered without blazing, bandleader Andy Tillison gathers his shifting personnel for a prayer at the altar of prog, offering knowing winks. The album’s subtitled The Music That Died Alone Volume Two, which references the band’s debut, perhaps the first prog album to be written ‘about’ prog. All very meta-something, but this time he knows his 2002 fears of the genre dying out proved unfounded. Codpieces And Capes is a 12-minute bustle through keyboard swirls (Tillison’s own), guitar motifs and a profession of love to “the music”. From the opening sample of a blinkered reporter decrying “the self-indulgent, overblown and pretentious groups of the 1970s” to our rebel confessing, ‘You were our teen years, of which we can’t let go’ while swooning over gatefolds, this is witty, self-aware and oddly touching. There are also some in-jokes for prog aficionados: ‘Well if Neal can find God, what’s in for me?’ inquires Tillison. His voice isn’t the strongest, but what he says with it easily glides from hilarious to heartbreaking.

All this multi-layered magic wouldn’t fly without players able to do his vision justice. His band here includes The Flower Kings bassist Jonas Reingold, Maschine guitarist Luke Machin, the saxes/flutes of Theo Travis (Steven Wilson, Fripp) and ex-Zappa drummer Morgan Agren. Their commitment and enjoyment is evident.

On the 21-minute The Celluloid Road, a Steely Dan-style funk thrives as we’re led through ‘steam rising from pavements… fire escapes and trash cans…’ It’s Tillison’s tribute to the America of his dreams; that of North By Northwest cropdusters, heroic films and cop shows. He mocks the romantic clichés while acknowledging their merits. Yet there’s also cool cosmic wafting, as on the Floyd-referencing Aftereugene, which whispers: ‘Be careful with that sax’.

A Spark In The Aether may be The Tangent’s most celebratory, charismatic revelation to date. As Shaft might say: ‘Can ya dig it?’

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.