Elemental Tangents by Tracey Swain & Stephen Paine

By Andy Stout

Elemental Tangents book cover

Elemental Tangents | Tracey Swain & Stephen Paine | TnT-Photoart

This production is a bit of a multimedia hybrid: you can either look at is as a book of photography with a CD, or reverse your focus and see it as a CD with a book attached – liner notes that got a bit out of hand. But that would be to do it a disservice: it works at its best (and its best really is very very good) when, appropriately enough, both elements are put together.

Musically this is fine stuff. Created by Stephen Paine from the prog/symphonic-metal outfit Legend, it is, for want of a better description, multi-instrumental electronica. Not everything in there is a synth, far from it, but it traces a strong line back to the pioneering 70s releases from the likes of Jarre, Oldfield, and Tangerine Dream – even the minimalist orchestral works of Glass and Reich – though with a notable world-flavoured, folkloric and infectious rhythmic semblance all of its own.

It’s possibly that, along with the fact that its production has got a clarity that you’d normally associate with much larger budgets, that makes it feel quite so current. As it steps through the elements — Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and Spirit — this never feels like an album that belongs in the past, but is one instead that stands on the shoulders of giants to reach that little bit higher.

And yes, it is that good and that deserving of the praise. Jarre himself has recently returned to form with the stunning Electronica 1: The Time Machine, and while the opulent soundscapes of Elemental Tangents veer far more to the prog and post-rock spectrum in many cases throughout the record — just listen to Simon Thorne’s elegant guitar solo on Fire — it updates a classic sound genre to the same extent, though in a totally different direction. Or you could twin it loosely to Pink Floyd’s recent Endless River: it really is capable of keeping some very illustrious company indeed.

Visually it’s stunning too, Tracey Swain’s evocative photographic compositions providing an arresting counterpoint to the audio and helping introduce a pronounced meditational aspect to proceedings: opening you wide in places to contemplate immense vistas, drawing you in to the nurturing Earth at others.

If I had one quibble it would be that there’s not a coffee table version so that you can dwell a little more extensively on the imagery, but taken separately both elements of Elemental Tangents are rather special. Put them together and you have something quite remarkable that you will be both listening to and looking at a lot as the years unwind. Hopefully until Swain and Paine produce another project at least…