It has been a while since we've heard about Tiles; the Detroit area heavy progressive rock band that I have been following since the release of their self-titled debut album in 1994. Fly Paper, with an amazing guest solo from Rush' Alex Lifeson, was their latest studio album and that one already goes back eight years, not counting the two live recordings that were released some years ago. So, you can imagen my hopes were high when receiving this album, which clocks in over ninety-six minutes, divided over two separate CDs. The core of Tiles always has been guitarist, keyboard player and basically instrumentalist Chris Herin, vocalist Paul Rarick, bass player Jeff Whittle and drummer Mark Evans-a reasonably steady line-up that forms the base for their 2016 release Pretending 2 Run. Beside this strong line-up, longtime producer Terry Brown, known from Rush and Fates Warning returned to contribute but as a special gesture, Tiles has come up with an amazing list of participants, to contribute their signature craftsmanship to the album. Pretending 2 Run sees the extraordinary addition of Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, Max Webster's Kim Mitchel adds his guitar work, as well as jazz rock and fusion legend Mike Stern. Adam Holzman of Steven Wilson's band contributes on several tracks and so does Porcupine Tree's Colin Edwin on two tracks. Father and son; Mike and Max Portnoy play together on one song and Mike plays on one by himself. Among others guests are Matthew Parmenter, Mark Mikel and Joe Deninzon, closing the impressive list.
I know Tiles has always come up with great music, without the addition of a large number of contributors, so the main question for me is, if those extra musicians really do add something to the music of Tiles. After several sessions I have to confirm that the special guests do add something special to the music. Their music that has evolved again, adding electronics and sidesteps towards fusion.
Disc One seems to contain the music the band always has been known for-high quality melodic progressive rock with strong vocals. Although the opening track Pretending To Run has the distinguished voice of Paul Rarick, the music sounds like a blend of the traditional Tiles combined with soundscapes, more in the vein the darker music of Katatonia and a cool furious solo by Chris ices this first piece of wonderful cake. The following Shelter In Place emphasizes the key elements of the band, strong guitar lines and a solid and noticeable rhythm section, topped with a fine voice. Canadian guitar player Kim Mitchell adds his weirdness to the song, gaining points for the band. Stonewall has Mike Portnoy as a drummer, on this classical progressive song has hunches of Blue Oyster Cult as well as Led Zeppelin. Stonewall is a very strong orchestrated, accessible song, with a powerful assist from powerhouse Portnoy. Voir Dire is just goose bumps and is all about the signature guitar style of Chris Herin. This instrumental song reminds me why I like their music so much. Drops Of Rain is another solid song where the rhythm section get the time to go bananas over another super solo. Taken By Surprise really is a surprise combining strong heavy progressive rock with impressive soundscapes by Adam Holzman and elements of fusion, topped by a double guitar solo; Herin and Mike Stern. Pick your favourite. Refugium is a short piece that completely consists of a Renaissance choir. In the opening track of this CD, Paul Rarick gets the assistance of Matthew Parmenter during the vocal parts of Small Fire Burning, a catchy accessible song with a sound design by Colin Edwin.
The Second CD does explore a more experimental side of Tiles. Opener Midwinter is a smooth soundscape style composition with mesmerizing vocals and an absolute brilliant flute part by Ian Anderson, creating a laid back atmosphere. During Weightless; a song with a sort of funky vibe, the fretless bass excels, the addition of a cool Hammond organ and sax solo work pretty well with the continuing heavy riffs on the guitar. Friend Or Foe is another Colin Edwin sound design composition; smooth and relaxed, taking the music towards Steven Wilson's electronical style music again. Drenched in background vocals, Battle Weary takes you back to a sixties style music, filled with acoustic guitars and a short trumpet part. When it's time for The Disappearing Floor, it seems Tiles has found the power, that made the first CD stand out, Paul's slightly distorted vocals define this style, just like the strong and furious drum parts. Again Mike Stern adds his signature solo to a song on the album. The song that contains both Portnoy family members; Fait Accompli is an almost romantic symphonic acoustic composition, which has a nice string section, but the input of both mentioned drummers can hardly be noticed. The instrumental Uneasy Truce is another succeeded showcase of the instrumentalists of Tiles, this time the bass and guitar work wonderful together and the addition of Joe Deninzon's violin does add something special to the music. The albums final track is Backsliding; an acoustic composition which holds a woodwind-and string section, leaving me with some questions.
In the end Tiles made it hard for me, the first CD is absolutely brilliant and will, without any doubt get my full five stars, but the second CD gives me mixed feelings. In my opinion it would have been better when Pretending 2 Run was released as a single CD; just CD one. The second CD would have been a nice addition to the special edition and the album would still have gotten the maximum amount of points. But since the album was presented as a double CD I have to change my verdict, just because of the few attractive compositions that feature on the second CD. In the end I will continue playing the first CD over and over again, but I am afraid the second one will hardy see the light of day, stuck in the nicely presented digipack.
**** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Robert James Pashman)
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