The Tangent started life back in 2003 as a prog rock supergroup consisting of guitarist Roine Stolt and bassist Jonas Reingold of The Flower Kings, legendary sax player David Jackson of Van der Graaf, guitarist/vocalist Guy Manning and keyboardist/vocalist Andy Tillison of Parallel or 90 Degrees. Since their first album, the amazing "The Music That Died Alone," everyone but Reingold and Tillison left the band. Tillison took the reigns and guided the band through some great albums and some that, in my opinion, were a bit lacking.
In fact, the last release " Le Sacre Du Travail" was my least favorite to date. The album was based on a typical day for a person and was just as tedious and boring as some days can be. So when I heard that Tillison was planning on creating a sequel to the band's amazing debut album, I was more than a little bit apprehensive. Tillison used more than a few "session" musicians on the last album, but they were some of progressive rock's most talented people: drummer Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree and King Crimson, for example. So what now?
For starters, talented young guitarist Luke Machin returned which may have been the "spark in the aether" that Tillison needed. For whatever reason, Tillison seems more at home singing about progressive rock and nostalgia which then translates to the music being some of the best material he has been a part of. The title track starts the album off and serves notice that this is an album that deserves to be a sequel. The song is one of the best "earworms" ever
(you will be singing and humming this song) and in a parallel universe (or back in the 70s), this song would be massive.
"Codpieces and Capes" pays hommage to the glorious excesses of prog in the 70s with all of its over the top majesty.
Again, a great chorus makes a world of difference ("We've got the music"). The song has some amazing soloing from Tillison and Machin as well. "Clearing the Attic" is another ridiculously great track that marries the catchy nature of the title track with the prog of the second. It has more great
organ from Tillison that Jon Lord would be proud of. "Aftereugene" is a bit of a bridge to the upcoming epic track but it is far from filler. The title is a play on the Pink Floyd song "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" and Tillison whispers "Careful With That Sax" right before Theo Travis (of Steven Wilson band fame) cuts loose with one of the best sax solos I have ever heard. It rips.
The 20 plus minute epic "The Celluloid Road" is next and is a tribute to American film and culture. There are times that I am not sure if Andy Tillison is being sarcastic or sincere but I do think that this track is from the heart. The song has solid transitions, though it does stop a bit prior to the "San Francisco" section which points out that maybe the song could have been split into multiple songs. But that is just nitpicking on my part. Unlike some of the past epics on the last few albums, "The Celluloid Road" flows well and you aren't wondering when it will end! That, for me, is the mark of a good epic track. The second part of the title track finishes things out nicely and makes for a great reprise of the hooks and riffs from the first song. A fitting end to a great album. The bonus track is the "San Francisco" single edit which shows that maybe indeed it should have been carved out.
Just when I had about given up on The Tangent doing a great album, "A Spark in the Aether" changes everything for me. The music, the lyrics, the melodies and the playing all work to perfection. It's a shame that Andy Tillison doesn't get the recognition that Steven Wilson or Neal Morse get. He has been PROUDLY flying the progressive rock flag whilst Wilson dodges the label and Morse is more concerned with repeating the same style over and over and calling it prog. Hopefully, this album shines the spotlight on one of prog's most ardent champions. He deserves it!