American progsters Tiles formed in 1993, but I'm something of a newcomer to their work. Apparently landing a production deal with Gene Simmons of Kiss fame shortly after their inception, they've only released five studio albums since then, with this, 'Pretending 2 Run', being their sixth after an eight year wait. However, I'm sure long-term fans of the band will partly forgive Tiles' lengthy absence as they've delivered a double-disc affair that's loaded with over 96 minutes of music.
First off, what a great and magnificently surreal album cover... a tortoise on an elevator with a toddler screaming at the top. What does it all mean? Fuck knows! And inside this nicely designed digipak, it doesn't get any less equivocal. Behind one CD is a picture of a penny-farthing bicycle, whereas behind the other is an image of an actual penny and farthing. Whatever innate intended meaning might be embedded in all this imagery, I guess it's better just to enjoy a dose of batty surrealism once in a while. Ah, but hang on, prolific artist Hugh Syme is behind the illustrations, design and art direction, so that explains it. He's the man responsible for every Rush album cover since 1975, as well as a multitude of other notable bands/artists including the likes of Dream Theater; Iron Maiden; Def Leppard; Fates Warning; Whitesnake; and Charlotte Church! It's eye-catching stuff, that's for sure.
Notably, there's a long list of guest performers on 'Pretending 2 Run' - Porcupine Tree bassist Colin Edwin; ex-Dream Theater sticksman (and too many bands to mention since), Mike Portnoy and son Max; keys man Adam Holzman, who's been involved as a session musician with a plethora of iconic artists from Miles Davis to Steven Wilson; Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson... the list goes on and on... and on! Too many to mention, but it's certainly an impressive roster of talent they've secured the participation of here.
So, eye-catching art design and esteemed guests is one thing, but what about the actual music? Hit and miss, I have to say, but definitely more hit than miss. While I'm sure many will be overjoyed by the vast amount of music presented across the two discs, I can't help but feel the purported "multi-layered storyline" might've benefitted from a little trimming. It just seems like there are too many plodding and banal moments that undermine the genuinely exhilarating and atmospherically absorbing parts. If only they'd been a little more selective in what made the final discs, 'Pretending 2 Run' would've been a much stronger work.
Traditional, retro-prog-rock is generally the order of the day throughout the 96+ minutes. And I know "retro-prog" is, at face value, an oxymoron, but Tiles, all too often, and particularly on the first disc, adhere to "prog" as a genre of yore, with stagnant idioms, rather than having any apparent desire to progress what's gone before. That's not necessarily a bad move per se, but it's kind of predictable after a while. Well executed, for sure, but the very compositions are a little bland at times. That said, it's not all retro-stylistic imitation. 'Midwinter', for example, that opens the second disc, has some interesting beats in its opening passages, along with some wonderful keys/flute interplay (this is Ian Anderson's guest spot). Instrumental, electronic-biased piece, 'Other Arrangements', with Adam Holzman, is also a refreshing interposition in the generic prog. As are the two beautiful choir interludes - 'Refugium' on disc one and 'Meditatio' on disc two - which are simply sublime.
I also have to mention the production at the hand of Terry Brown, which is about as inconsistent as Tiles' compositions. Anachronistic is one word I'd use to summarise the overall sound the music has, but maybe that was their intention, to match the retro nature of their musical aesthetic. Either way, it's not all good news. While the production is pretty good, it's discernibly inconsistent throughout. Drums and bass fare best through the production and in the mix, albeit with some glitches here and there (mainly level issues in the mix), but guitars haven't always been afforded the best sound and/or level. Both rhythm and lead guitars, all too often, have an almost muffled, amateurish sound. Lead guitars are biased towards mid-range and bass tonalities, which gives them a nice-ish warm quality, but the mid-tones are a little too pronounced, to the point where they've been zapped of any bite where a little bite's needed. The opening of 'Uneasy Truce' is but one example, where some fast-tempo arpeggios that book-end the song just sound like muffled clutter.
Overall, there's some good stuff on 'Pretending 2 Run', occasionally great, but just not consistently so. Maybe a single disc of Tiles' strongest material this time around would've been better, to eradicate the dips in quality. It's too much of a frustrating album as it stands, and something of an endurance test to get through two discs of the stuff, just for the best moments.
PRETENDING 2 RUN
Review by Mark Holmes
45:58 & 50:31
15th April 2016
DISC ONE: 1) Pretending to Run; 2) Shelter in Place; 3) Stonewall; 4) Voir Dire; 5) Drops of Rain; 6) Taken by Surprise; 7) Refugium; 8) Small Fire Burning
DISC TWO: 1) Midwinter; 2) Weightless; 3) Friend or Foe; 4) Battle Weary; 5) Meditatio; 6) Other Arrangements; 7) The Disappearing Floor; 8) Fait Accompli; 9) Pretending to Run (reprise 1); 10) Uneasy Truce; 11) Pretending to Run (reprise 2); 12) The View from Here; 13) Backsliding
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"If only they'd been a little more selective in what made the final discs, 'Pretending 2 Run' would've been a much stronger work."