Tiles has always seemed to be one band where the expression “your mileage may vary” seems to apply. Those of you that follow the show know that I’ve always been a huge fan of the band, and they are one the first bands I will suggest to someone when they are ready to look beyond the established names – particularly if they show an interest in Rush. Their sound can be very Rush like at times, and they’ve got some other contributing factors as well. We’ve seen Alex Lifeson throwing down a guest spot on Fly Paper, Hugh Syme doing the cover art for the fourth straight album, and having Terry Brown producing his third straight Tiles album. But there is enough differentiation from Rush for Tiles for them carve out their own piece of the prog pie.
If you are already familiar with Tiles and like them, then Pretending 2 Run is likely going to be a welcome addition to your collection, as their signature style is all over the album, with a few new welcome additions. If you’re not familiar with them, and my word isn’t good enough for you, I will name-drop a list of musicians who have agreed to lend their talents to this album: Ian Anderson, Mike Portnoy, Colin Edwin, Adam Holzman, Kim Mitchell, Matthew Parmenter, and Mike Stern – and if that last name doesn’t mean much to you now, I’ll explain later.
Pretending 2 Run is Tiles first album of original material since 2008, and given the amount of time that has passed since Fly Paper was released, they generated enough material to release a double album. If you’ve never listened to a Tiles album before, here is what you can expect – well controlled higher pitched vocals that possess a satisfying smoothness by Paul Rarick; catchy guitar riffs provided by Chris Herin; and a rhythm section that has crunchy bass and some well-timed keyboard work provided by Jeff Whittle, and solid work on the skins by Mike Evans. Another hallmark of the Tiles formula is the large number of instrumental tracks compared to other bands that have a vocalist. While those all hold true for Pretending 2 Run, the band has done some tinkering with the formula for this album, including some jazz instrumental sections, utilizing guests such as Mike Stern, who was Miles Davis’s guitarist. The band also used a string section on many songs, providing another new dimension not previously found in their sound.
Pretending 2 Run is a nice new extension in the Tiles catalog. It brings back a familiar sound to those who waited eight long years like I have, and it has the potential to get a neophyte to explore their back catalog. My biggest kudo is that this is the most diverse sounding and most exploratory album by the band yet, without losing sight of their signature sound. My biggest complaint is probably an obvious one, and that is the length. While I would have a hard time pinpointing as individual song as a weak spot, I have found that my interest wanes on disc 2 when listened back to back, yet if I start at disc 2, it is a much more enjoyable listen. I’m sure I could make some cuts to the track list without a huge loss, but seeing as the price is the same as a single album, I don’t think complaining about the extra material is fair. A second nitpick is that while I don’t think the album has any weak points, with 21 tracks total, there are only 3 that really shine, those being “Shelter In Place”, “Drops of Rain”, and stashed away in the middle of disc 2, “The Disappearing Floor”.
While I’m pleased with this album and have already preordered it, I’m also quite aware of where is stands in both their catalog and my catalog as a whole. It’s a nice, solid offering that is enjoyable, but probably isn’t going to send anyone over the moon.