TILES - Pretending 2 Run
Although they have never been as famous as Dream Theater, for whom they opened a tour in 1999, Detroit based progressive rock / metal band Tiles are one of the more persistent bands in their genre. They released five album between 1994 and 2008. Afterwards they were mostly playing live shows, although they have been working on their sixth album since 2010. Itís no surprise that a lot of material accumulated, so that the band decided to make Pretending 2 Run something special. Not only has the double record become a concept album, but they invited also a lot (over 20!) guest musicians, most notably Disciplineís Matthew Parmenter on a lot of vocals, Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) and his son Max (Next To None) on drums, Jethro Tullís Ian Anderson on flute, Miles Davisí collaborator Mike Stern on guitar and too many to mention.
The incredible artwork comes courtesy of Hugh Syme, and legendary producer Terry Brown was in charge of the sound. Both these facts underline Tilesí affinity to the sound of Rush, whose early albums were already produced by said producer. This is why Tiles are often closer to the more melodic progressive rock genre than to the more aggressive metal sound, but compared to Dream Theaterís latest double album The Astonishing, an exercise in kitsch, to be honest, Tiles come out as the victors.
And yet not everything about Pretending 2 Run is as perfect as one could have hoped when looking at the extensive line-up. And yet the first CD is splendid, coming with eight tracks, some of them really long and showcasing perfectly the bandís progressive side. The seven minute opener and title track takes some time to build momentum, but uses its expansive length to craft a masterpiece in modern progressive rock. The following Shelter In Place is not even four minutes long, and shows the Michigan quartet from its more aggressive side, with some strange Oriental touches in the music. Despite its concise length, the track still feels very strange and likeable. Stonewall feels at first more accessible, but its interesting instrumentation, featuring an oboe and a string section, give it enough intriguing moments to make it another standout track. After the complex instrumental Voir Dire (hello Rush!), we get more highlights with the slightly psychedelic and very catchy Drops Of Rain and the eleven plus minute epic Taken By Surprise which sees the band even flirting with electronic gadgetry. Refugium is a haunting choir track, before the first disc ends with the recordís highlight Small Fire Burning. Matthew Parmenterís vocal delivery make this sound like a forgotten track by his band Discipline, one of the best progressive rock bands ever, and possibly the best one the USA had ever to offer. It should also be noted that Parmenter has also helped a lot with the overall arrangements on the album.
The second disc starts out very promising with Midwinter and the like always supreme flute playing of Ian Anderson. Weightless is another long track, with nine minutes of course very varied, that leaves nothing to be desired. Friend Or Foe comes with more of the excellent vocals by Matthew Parmenter, but from here onwards, it seems as if the band is running out of ideas. There are for instance two short reprises of the title track, another choir song, plus a lot here and there that feels like padding.
Pretending 2 Run would have been a progressive rock masterpiece, had it run somewhere between sixty and seventy minutes, but the last short half hour canít quite keep up with what preceded, so that I feel myself obliged to leave the band with an eight point rating. Pretending 2 Run is still a far above average progressive rock album, and I am especially happy to hear the diving Matthew Parmenter on so many tracks. Eight years after their last album, Tiles show that they still havenít unlearned their trade, and we should all hope that they wonít take such a long time off before we get to hear the successor.