Tom Tyler – Forward Going Backward

Should have been forward

I don’t get it. I really don’t. There’s this really talented guy, Tom Tyler. Does a few EPs and an album on a highly respected label, DC Recordings. Gets to do his second long-player, supported by a flock of really good musicians, comes up with this beautifully designed thing – and goes nowhere with it.

No, it’s not because the album itself is a disappointment, not at all. It received a bunch of excellent, even enthusiastic reviews and some of them are quoted on the hype sticker. “Cooler than a dry Martini”. “Fresh, beautiful, you’ll love this.” “Impeccably produced. Superb.” And so on.

Even if I wouldn’t necessarily use the Martini comparison, and even if I think that Vice didn’t necessarily use the best possible label for what this album has to offer when they described it as a “whacked-out sci-fi funk odyssey”, I fully agree with the praise they poured over this album.

It’s a mystery, really. This was Tom Tyler’s last album. He did record more music in the years that followed and recently released a collection of “Spatial Themes” – but for some strange reason his luck ran out with “Forward Going Backward”.

Most of what Tyler had done before this was more or less located within the broader Downtempo spectrum, notably on the more ambitious and creative side of it. On this album though, it clearly went up and forward (certainly not backward) – from what was mostly a studio solo effort to an album that is more of a group effort, leaning much closer towards that slightly nebulous Future Jazz category.

Even if it is a pretty much overused metaphor, the Vice critics were right about one thing – the album is really “just waiting for a suitable film to come along”, and it would be anything but a B-movie. The opener “Drinking Tea From An Empty Cup” already makes that clear. A track that is ideally suited for the opening titles, setting the tone in slightly sombre style, a beat that sits nicely between Jazz and Hip Hop, Max Brennan on bass and Duncan Mackay on trumpet adding depth – not spectacular, but effective.

On “Daylight Robbed Her” we get our first set of goosebumps – a really fine mixture of melancholy, tranquility and dreaminess, fine melodies and moods – this might have just as well come from France, the way it sounds and feels. That’s the beauty of this album, it has just the right amount of storytelling feel, and it is so well produced, composed and arranged that you don’t really need a suitable film to come along, it unfolds all by itself, whatever it may be – Tyler is smart to avoid clichés or stereotypes.

There are moments when you might think that this is not one guy’s project but rather a band playing, especially during the eight minutes of “Siolim” – here, quite fittingly, almost all of the players on this album are listed as composers as well. It’s a hippie-esque trip, all complete with electric sitar, that slides into a more moody and jazzy “Snowball Go Green”. Sophisticated listening music – and that’s a compliment.

None of what we hear on “Forward Going Backward” is a plausible reason for this album not moving Tyler’s career forward. Not the nightly highway ride of “The Crippled Diode”, not the back alley shadows of “Give It A Name” or the looming tension of “Backspace Altercation”, and not even “No Dice”‘s excursion to Trip Hop land.

Sometimes things don’t work out even if they should have. Yes, the song titles are a little weird, and somehow it seems as if we always are kept at a distance, more observing than participating, and it’s slightly the same with other DC Recordings artists – Max Brennan’s O. H. Krill project for example, or Kelpe, all really fine productions, high level of creativity and individualism, intellectual approach – and a certain sense of being left outside looking in.

Still. That doesn’t explain the sudden end of Tom Tyler’s days at DC. This is a really good album. Full stop.

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