Pretending 2 Run

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Detroit's prog kings Tiles have always been an outlier on America's music scene, celebrated in Europe and Asia but overlooked at home. For over more than 20 years, they've created a unique sound that, while deeply indebted to Rush's hard rock (Alex Lifeson appeared on one of their albums, and Terry Brown is their producer) from the beginning, has developed exponentially to include elements of progressive metal, jazz fusion, and neo-classical elements.

Pretending 2 Run is Tiles' first studio album in eight years. It's a 96-minute, 21-song cycle with themes of betrayal, alienation, emotional darkness, spiritual catharsis, and redemption. The loosely constructed narrative revolves around a central character who has experienced sudden, severe trauma, and is sequestered in the solitude of his mind. The story isn't strictly linear -- boundaries between past and present events and people blur. There is much for the listener to interpret but it isn't absolutely necessary to enjoy what's on offer because most of the songs stand on their own.

This quartet -- guitarist and main composer Chris Herin, vocalist Paul Rarick, bassist Jeff Whittle, and drummer/percussionist Mark Evans -- seamlessly weave stylistic, dynamic, and textural elements framed by brilliant production from Brown and engineering from Peter Moore. To realize the project, they enlisted the help of friends including Ian Anderson, Mike and Max Portnoy, Adam Holzman, Mike Stern, Colin Edwin, Kim Mitchell and Matthew Parmenter, as well as choirs, strings, and reeds. (The gorgeous booklet was designed by no less than Hugh Syme.) These kaleidoscopic styles begin to reveal themselves in the title cut, a hook-laden, progressive pop/rock tune with crystalline multi-tracked vocals and chunky heavy metal with hard rock riffs. "Shelter Me" combines Middle Eastern modalism, prog guitars and bass, cinematic metal drumming, and polyphonic neo-classical vocals in counterpoint. On "Stonewall," tambura, oboe, acoustic and electric guitars, synth, strings, and Mike Portnoy's fluid drumming drop the listener directly inside its architecture. "Voir Dire" (one of several fine instrumentals) nods at King Crimson's "Lark's Tongues in Aspic II." In the 11-minute "Taken by Surprise," Holzman's organ fuels a knotty, forceful meld of charging jazz fusion as it meets metallic prog. "Refugium" is a brief (and stunning) wordless, classical choral piece. Massive melodic hooks, taut rhythmic grooves, angular counterpoint, and intuitive improvisational interplay mark the nine-minute "Weightless" (that briefly checks Yes' "And You & I" in an interlude). Whittle's rumbling, fluid bass provides a worthy foil for Mike Stern's burning solo on "The Disappearing Floor," while "Uneasy Truce," another instrumental, showcases Joe Deninzon on violin going head to head with Herin and the rhythm section. Holzman's ambient "The View from Here" (with Herin on glockenspiel) introduces the unsettling yet gentle closer "Blacksliding" rife with oboe, strings and mandolin, and concluding with brittle martial snares.

Pretending 2 Run is massive, obsessive even. But it is also free of self-indulgence. Disciplined performances and lyric economy balance the breadth of Tiles' ambition with depth and maturity that only longevity like theirs brings. Who says the concept album is dead? Brilliant.

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