Always welcome, forever unpredictable, The Tangent's 11th studio album Auto Reconnaissance is another wonderful, panoramic wander through vivid aural landscapes, created and composed by Andy Tillison, one of Prog's great savants.
Mostly composed before the lockdown and recorded during it, Tillison's musical palette this time draws on jazz, funk and R&B as well as the all too familiar keyboard-led passages and driving rhythms.
It's the same band line-up as that of their last album Proxy (2018, see review) - Luke Machin, guitars; Jonas Reingold, bass guitars; Steve Roberts, drums; Theo Travis, saxophone, flute and duduk, together with guest musician Matt Steady on Uilleann pipes.
Opener Life On Hold comes bounding straight out the music blocks, its synthesised voices, chunky guitar and terrific Hammond organ sequence all pulsating along to a tantalising rhythm.
Tillison's skill as an observer and chronicler is at its height in Jinxed In Jersey, a composition in eight parts, which charts a journey he made to New York, when he veered off the usual route and discovered a completely new “country”. There's lots of narrative and a laid-back feel throughout, reminiscent of Bob James who wrote the theme tune to the US TV series Taxi, interspersed with some scuzzy discordance and plaintive flute.
Under Your Spell is a tender, heart-felt love song written for Tillison's partner Sally Collyer, which is full of lovely piano and poignant saxophone. It's followed by the catchy Tower Of Babel, that centres on the pros and cons of internet conversations and features some brass and a superb synthesiser break.
The magnum opus is the 11 part Lie Back (And Think Of England), a deep musical meditation on the state of Tillison's beloved country, which starts and ends with reminders of the acclaimed In Earnest, the opening track on their 2006 album A Place In The Queue.
The song also touches on Brexit, memories and the glorious North Yorkshire scenery where Tillison lives, reflected in the Uileann pipes of Greenhow Air. Increasingly angry and dramatic, it's a real team effort with outstanding contributions from all the band.
Ending on an optimistic note, The Midas Touch incorporates a real soul groove, as per Isaac Hayes or Curtis Mayfield, and describes the beauty of the wintry Yorkshire countryside.
Bonus track Proxima is a swirling synth-tech work-out, which spins into the realms of Can and Tangerine Dream.
It's one of this year's outstanding albums and shows Tillison to be at the very peak of his powers in creating consistently brilliant, thought-provoking Prog.
**** Alison Reijman
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