Tiles - PRETENDING 2 RUN
So for those of us who have followed this band since inception (that incredibly refreshing self-titled debut that took the prog world by surprise with its wit, catchiness and technical brilliance circa 1994), Pretending 2 Run will in essence be like the return of a welcome long-lost friend. After all, it has been 8 years since the Detroit prog rockers last released new studio material. And where Fly Paper (2008) was somewhat of a return to the early styles and sounds – and also marked the return of original drummer Mark Evans - P2R takes things to the next level covering familiar ground whilst simultaneously branching out into whole other realms of progressiveness. In doing so they've crafted an album that paradoxically sounds less like their influences (the Rush comparisons have long plagued them, unfairly in my opinion) and more of an original Tiles vibe … augmented to the max! Given the span of its 2 discs/96 minutes, there is plenty of time for experimentation and conceptual development, but no shortage of spectacular instrumental performance and vocal diversity. And by employing the help of numerous other musicians (Mike and Max Portnoy, Adam Holzman, Colin Edwin and Matthew Parmenter (violin), and Mike Stern to name a few) they've certainly delivered their most dynamic recording to date.
It’s impossible to describe everything going on here. I’ve been listening to these songs for the better part of the past week, as well as revisiting the entire back catalog for the past 2 weeks, and while Presents of Mind (1999) has long been my favorite, these guys have been so consistently great that it is really hard to say P2R is their best – it’s just more diverse. Even the experimental Window Dressing (the album I’ve always found to be the most difficult to embrace because of the more repetitious nature of its songs and content) pales in comparison – these songs are so much more expansive. The electronic and keyboard elements do give this a more modern feel but the jazzy/fusion driven frenetic Tiles element remains at the core. Paul Rarick’s vocal performance is noteworthy. In the early days he always stretched his voice to almost awkward levels but as he has matured as a singer he never sounds strained – his vocals here are more multi-faceted, yet they retain that slightly nasal, clearly distinctive quality. Not surprisingly, the instrumentalists are phenomenal. Herin and Whittle don’t sound as if they’ve lost any of their touch. Mark Evans (drums) – who missed Presents of Mind and Window Dressing – rounds out the original line-up. His jazz/fusion influenced percussive style perfectly complements everything else going on here. He has a gift for adding a lot detailed expression to the “in-between” spaces without sounding overly self-indulgent. One listen through “Taken by Surprise” will convince the doubters – these guys have continued to hone their chops and lost nothing to time, perhaps thanks to the Off The Floor sessions.
Musically speaking, at first glance, the first 8 songs (disc 1) feel a bit like the “feature” with disc 2 containing more of the experimental/ambient/improvisational material. But that is clearly an oversimplification because conceptually the story – one man’s journey from betrayal to redemption – flows seamlessly through the entirety of the double CD set. Honestly, the entire 96 minutes from start to finish is breathtaking, and while there is plenty of improvisational type jamming going on, this thing never grows dull largely due to the wide array of styles and instrumentation employed. Tons of guitar tones (electric/acoustic/mandolin), keyboards, saxophone, horn, strings … even Ian Anderson lends his flute to a few tracks, most noteworthy the otherworldly “Midwinter.” The attention to detail is remarkable, like where Evans plays behind the beat on “Small Fire Burning” at the 1:46 mark as a foreshadowing of the time drag which concludes the song! How many artists are willing to do this kind of thing on a studio recording in this day and age? And while previous albums have contained instrumental tracks, never before has this band given us “interlude” tracks like the haunting choral tracks “Refugium,” and “Meditatio” or ambient electronica/futuristic interludes like “Other Arrangements” and “The View From Here” (Adam Holzman and dark Porcupine Tree/Wilson influence seeping in here?). I love the effects on the out-take track “Backsliding” where the marching snare drum fades into the distance, echoing the snare riff from the opening title track, which happens to be one of the highlight tracks indeed along with the jam-infested “The Disappearing Floor,” the catchy/trippy Portnoy infused “Stonewall” and the P2R (Reprise 1)/Uneasy Truce/P2R (Reprise 2) sequence. But really, P2R impresses more as whole than in parts. Like Ayreon’s Human Equation each song stands on its own amidst the backdrop of the greater concept, but the songs sound most impressive within the context of the entire piece of work. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sonic quality here – the band collaborates with Peter Moore and once again Terry Brown so expect nothing but the best in terms of the soundscape and listening experience.
So with P2R, Tiles and company have exceeded all expectations. But what else could they do at this point in their career? They’ve always been a “musician’s band,” and as successful as Fly Paper was at recreating the magic of those early years, time and personal endeavor called for something more grandiose. Fortunately, flashiness and big production of P2R aside, the great thing about Tiles is that their music remains, at its foundation, all about the music and the melody. And although the lyrical theme this time is less accessible and more introspective, these guys continue to engage and connect with their listeners at the core human level, all the while simultaneously maintaining the highest level of performance which this genre demands. Brilliant – an absolute work of art! Fans of artful rock rejoice.
The 2CD version is housed in a triple gatefold digi with lyric booklet (includes exhaustive musician/artist breakdown for each song) featuring the stunning artwork/illustrations of Hugh Syme. [The Laser's Edge/Standing Pavement]