Joe Biden’s endless wars | Spectator USA

But the only thing coming on if Biden wins is another round of hopeless foreign interventionism and nation-building. His individual votes are damning enough. Still more damning is the philosophy behind them. Joe Biden is an archetypal liberal interventionist of the post-Cold War variety. He understands war in the same terms as domestic policy: as an occasion to expand the power wielded by experts in Washington, whose moral and rational qualifications are beyond question — no matter how disastrous the consequences of their policies.
— Read on spectator.us/joe-biden-endless-wars-afghanistan-serbia/

The Flower Kings: Islands

Islands
Cover art by the master of prog art, Roger Dean

Here is the latest in what will hopefully be a regular feature at Spirit of Cecilia: a conversation about a current release from a favorite artist. Once again, Arts Editor Tad Wert joins Editor-in-Chief Brad Birzer, this time to discuss the Flower Kings’ latest, Islands.

Birzer: Somewhat surprisingly–especially given how recently the band released its last album, 2019’s excellent Waiting for Miracles–The Flower Kings is just about to release its fourteenth studio album, Islands.  It comes out on October 30. 

And, it’s not just any album, but a double album.

Tad, we’ve had a few weeks to listen to the promo, and I’m really curious what you think. It’s a collection of (generally) shorter FK songs, but with all the FK trademarks and psychedelic flourishes one would expect from the band. 

Islands reminds me a bit of Stardust We Are in terms of its structure, but that album was more epic in reach and in scope. With Islands, however, it’s great (as always) to have the trademark dual vocal leads, but I think some of the instrumental passages and songs are simply stellar. Track 2 on disk 2, “A New Species,” for example, really stands out for its musical innovation and flow. I definitely would love an entire album built around this track, much like what a much younger FK did with Flower Power.  This is the kind of track that proves that FK is still a major powerhouse of prog.

Yet, there are a few moments that make me scratch my head.  The band has released as the first single from the album, “Broken,” the fifth track on disk one.  While the song has some achingly beautiful moments, especially lyrically, there are guitar and keyboard passages that are lifted almost directly from the theme song of The Simpsons!  Whether this was intentional and playful on the part of the band or not, I have no idea.

Still, while Islands is an excellent album, it’s very much rooted in third-wave prog.

Wert: Brad, I know the Flower Kings are one of your favorite groups, so I am honored you invited me to talk about them with you! I had a little chuckle when you said, “It’s not just any album, but a double album.” Looking at my music library, I have 13 studio albums of theirs, and no less than 9 are two (or more) discs. That’s almost 70%! I have enjoyed their music very much, but there are times when I wish they had an editor; I think some of their albums would be improved if they tightened them up a little.

So what about Islands? I agree that the songs are generally shorter, and that is a good thing in my opinion. The ones that immediately grabbed me were “Black Swan”, “Broken” (except now that you have pointed out the Simpsons reference, I can’t get that out of my head!), “Tangerine”, “Northern Lights”, and “Fool’s Gold”. A common thread of them is that they feature the vocals of both Roine Stolt and Hasse Froberg. I think when they collaborate the energy level really rises.

In their press release, Stolt says that the listener should approach this set as one long piece, which makes sense. When I first heard “Heart of the Valley” on the first disc, I thought it didn’t go anywhere; it sounded like a section of a larger epic. Well, on the second disc is “Telescope”, which is quoted in “Heart of the Valley”, so Islands really is one 90 minute suite. Once I approached it in that light, the songs I first considered throwaways took on more significance.

As Spirit of Cecilia’s resident FK expert, how would you rank Islands in their discography?

Birzer: Tad, great thoughts.  Thank you for them.  As much as I like Islands, I wouldn’t immediately rush it to the top in terms of rankings. My favorites from the band are Space Revolver (far and away, my favorite) and Paradox Hotel, followed closely by Stardust We Are and Unfold the Future. So, as much as I like Islands, it would rank–at least in these early stages of listening–somewhere in the low middle of their albums.  Maybe around the level of Banks of Eden.

Above, when I mentioned that the album is deeply rooted in third-wave prog, I meant this more as a statement of fact than as one of judgment. What I like about my favorite FK albums is their energy and their innovation, the chances the band takes. Overall, Islands seems low energy compared to the band’s best work and innocent of any real innovations.

It’s still a FK album and that means it’s better than 95% of the music out there.  But, within the FK discography, Islands ranks fairly low.

Wert: I’ll go with that assessment, Brad, although the more I listen to Islands, the more I like it. And I want to give a shout-out to Roger Dean for the incredible cover art! My takeaway: Islands is a solid effort by a band that is in no way in decline. They are still making vital music, and for that I am grateful.

I’m looking forward to Roine’s work with the new Transatlantic album that is slated for release soon!

Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories”: The Setting ~ The Imaginative Conservative

It should be remembered that 1938 had been a difficult year for Tolkien. While he had written much for his Hobbit sequel, he had suffered through deep depression in August and a nasty flu in December. Tolkien had also just finished the first several writing phases—as his son Christopher has labeled them—of what would become The Fellowship of the Ring, when he began research and thought regarding his proposed lecture, “On Fairy Stories.” He had hoped to deliver a paper on the same topic to an undergraduate society at Oxford in 1938, but that had fallen through.[3] This would be his chance to rectify that, and with the added benefit of serious academic legitimacy. On the evening of March 8, 1939, Tolkien delivered his lecture at the University of St. Andrews.

To state that the lecture was important to Tolkien and, frankly, to the world of literary criticism, would be a gross understatement. Coming when it does in Tolkien’s writing career, “On Fairy Stories” reveals more about the mind and soul of the man than any other non-fiction work he produced throughout his lifetime. It is, to be certain, seminal and beautifully so. Like his own Stoic and mystical understanding of Faerie, his talk was, in turns, excellent, insightful, and brilliant. It also offers, at its most fundamental level, a counterrevolution of ideas, an image of the world directly counter to that held by the fascists, communists, and ideologues of all varieties of the twentieth century
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/10/tolkien-on-fairy-stories-setting-bradley-birzer.html

Striking Sparks Over Gazpacho’s Fireworker

Gazpacho Fireworker

In this second dialogue between Spirit of Cecilia’s Editor-in-Chief, Bradley Birzer, and Arts Editor Thaddeus Wert, they discuss the merits of Norwegian progsters Gazpacho’s latest album, Fireworker.

Wert: Hello, Dr. Birzer! I understand you consider Fireworker to be Gazpacho’s best album since their 2007 classic, Night. That album certainly deserves its iconic status; I would say it single-handedly established a new genre of prog – “drone rock”. And when you add the incredible lyrics, it’s undeniable Night is a masterpiece. I really like Fireworker, and I have spent quite a bit of time immersing myself in it, but I’m still partial to Tick Tock, followed by Demon, if asked to rank their albums following Night. What is it about Fireworker that gets you so excited?

Birzer: Hello, Mathematician Wert! Yes, I’m finding myself rather obsessed with Fireworker.  I’m not sure how many times I’ve listened to it since it first arrived on my doorstep, but the number is getting close to uncountable. And, while I love Tick Tock (one album, I might have listened to, too much) and Demon, I’ve not been this immersed in an album since Night.

For me, Gazpacho always has great atmospherics and great vocals (Jan-Henrik Ohme).  The flow of any Gazpacho album is unparalleled in the prog world.  They linger when they need to linger, and they breathe when they need to breathe. Unlike some of their harder colleagues, Gazpacho values silence and restraint. A rare gift in any art form. 

What makes a Gazpacho album successful then–given the admittedly excellent vocals, atmosphere, and flow–is the meshing of vocals with atmosphere.  Again, each one–taken separately on any Gazpacho album–is near perfect, but how they mesh together is not always perfectly attained.  Every album is always good, but not always perfect.  As I hear it, Night might be unbeatable when it comes to the meshing. It’s a case of the vocals helping the atmosphere and the atmosphere, likewise, helping the vocals. 

On this meshing, Fireworker comes VERY close to beating Night.  This is especially true on the title track, which allows the vocals to proclaim an urgency, a weirdness, and a conviction. Take, for example, the truly bizarre insertion of Stephen King’s The Shining toward the end of the song:

Your ideal life

You’re the pilot of a dream

A fireworker’s fire regime

To illuminate

The sky’s a billion burning eyes

A final sulfurous goodbye

In The Shining

Apocalyptic overlook

Where Wendy wants to read his book

Admittedly, I’m not entirely sure what Gazpacho is doing here, lyrically, other than giving us a series of hazy utterances.  Yet, the lyrics work, and I desperately want to know what’s going on.  In large part, this is because the atmosphere and the vocals have meshed perfectly, thus making the lyrics deeply fascinating.

Tick Tock and Demon, while brilliant albums, don’t quite mesh the vocals and atmospherics quite as well as do Night and Fireworker.

Wert: Brad, I agree with your observation that on Fireworker, Gazpacho does a great job meshing vocals with atmosphere, and very few groups are as atmospheric as they are. Musically, though, I need to have something to grab onto – a melodic hook – and Fireworker doesn’t provide that for me. It is a beautiful piece of music, but if you asked me, I couldn’t hum anything from it. I probably need to spend more time listening to it.

Were you as surprised as I when the choir burst into the mix on the opening track? They have been posting some interesting insights on their Facebook page. One fan asked what the choir is singing on Space Cowboy, and they replied that they are 

“…singing randomly generated lines that were supposed to be in the “ancient language of the brain” used before words came into the picture. The choir is supposed to be the consciousness with its various voices all coming together to warn the protagonist of venturing further towards the Fireworker itself.”

I find that fascinating! I also appreciate the fact that they devote every album to a unifying theme. Fireworker’s theme is the ancestral voices that are embedded in our DNA – like the ancient “fight or flight” response we are still slaves to, even though we don’t face the same threats primitive humans did. They seem to be saying that we aren’t in control of ourselves; the “Fireworker” that is in our DNA makes demands on us we can’t resist. I find that perspective to be a little pessimistic.

Birzer: Tad, thanks  so much for such a thoughtful response.  I’m in agreement with you about most of this.  But, maybe because I’ve been listening too much, I find myself humming long parts of the album, and I especially find parts of Space Cowboy and Fireworker hummable. 

As to the album’s concept. . . I’m in agreement that it’s incredibly pessimistic and, given how free form much of Gazpacho’s music can be, strangely determinist.  You’d think an art rock band would do EVERYTHING to avoid believing in and espousing determinism.  Unfortunately, though, we’ve been a determinist society since the 1850s and Darwin.  Believe me, I long for a humanist society, one based on free will.

So, what a paradox and tension in Gazpacho’s album–free-form music with determinist lyrics.  I think, in my own mind, I can get around this because of two things.  First, the lyrics are so chaotic as to be, at times, nothing more than mere notes added to the album.  Second, I’ve been placing the album alongside H.P. Lovecraft’s works–which are equally determinist and mechanical in thought.  And, if I can love Lovecraft despite this, I can love Gazpacho.

Still. . . what would a humanist album from Gazpacho be like?  It would Night or Tick Tock!

Wert: “Paradox and tension” is the perfect description for Fireworker, as well as Gazpacho’s music in general. Like you, I love their work despite my dissent from their philosophy, and I am glad they are producing such beautiful music. And while I’m at it, I’d like to offer my appreciation for their attention to detail in the physical packaging of their albums. Each one is like a small hardbound book with exquisite art from Antonio Seijas. Each one is like a treasure trove of hints and omens. In an era when many recording artists simply throw a CD into a cardboard folder, Gazpacho obviously put great care and thought into every release, and for that I am grateful. Here’s to hoping there are many more from them in the future!

Gazpacho Discography
The Consistently Beautiful Art Books That Are Gazpacho’s CD Releases

THE STRATFORD FESTIVAL GOES DIGITAL

From Broadway World:

The Stratford Festival is following up on the success of its recent Shakespeare Film Festival with a $10-a-month digital content subscription, Stratfest@Home, offering more Shakespeare and more films, along with new commissions, music, conversation, cooking and comedy. A free film festival, with a theme of Hope Without Hope, will once again be offered on Thursday evenings.

“At this particular moment of pandemic, with social isolation once more upon us, nights growing longer and winter approaching, we need the consolation of community like never before. With these viewing parties and the many related artistic programs in Stratfest@Home, we invite you to enter the warmth of the Festival bubble,” says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino.

The subscription cost will include:

  • access to the 12 Shakespeare films streamed on YouTube this past spring;
  • a growing library of Festival-related legacy films, interviews & discussions;
  • new content like the filmed-in-Stratford mini-soap opera Leer Estates, holiday specials for Halloween and U.S. Thanksgiving, and video introductions to the young actors currently studying at the Festival’s Birmingham Conservatory;
  • coming in 2021, the game show Undiscovered Sonnets and the concert series Up Close and Musical.

The free film festival begins this Thursday on YouTube. Already on the schedule are:

  • October 22: The 2011 production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night featuring the late Brian Dennehy (a great version that my wife & I saw in person – it includes cool songs by then-artistic director Des McAnuff, who worked with Pete Townshend on the Broadway version of Tommy);
  • October 29: The Stratford Festival Ghost Tours Halloween binge.
  • November 5: The 1994 production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. This one’s a legendary part of Festival history.
  • November 12: The 1992 production of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, with a young Antoni Cimolino as Romeo and Anne of Green Gables’ star Megan Follows as Juliet.
  • November 19: The 2000 production of Timothy Findley’s Elizabeth Rex, a Festival commission. Playwright Findley was in the acting company with Sir Alec Guinness for the Festival’s inaugural season in 1953.
  • November 26: The Early Modern Cooking Show U.S. Thanksgiving binge.
  • December 3: The 2010 production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, starring Christopher Plummer. (Another great version that we saw live — and also got Plummer’s autograph on his memoirs!)
  • December 10: The 2008 production of George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, starring Christopher Plummer.
  • December 17: All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, a lecture with readings.

You can learn more about Stratfest@Home and subscribe at https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/AtHome

— Rick Krueger

in The DropBox: Kansas, SANGUINE HUM, and Lonely Robot

There is some interesting music in this week’s DropBox: a 46-year veteran prog band continues their recent winning streak, a more recently formed prog group comes up with a welcome return to form, and a veteran of several seminal prog groups maintains his high quality on another solo effort.

Absence of Presence

Pioneering progrock group Kansas’ new album, The Absence of Presence, proves that 2016’s excellent The Prelude Implicit was not a fluke. I don’t know what has lit a fire under these boys, but they are playing with more purpose and originality lately than they have shown in decades. Most bands of their age (46 years!) are content to rest on their laurels and milk nostalgia tours for all they’re worth. Kansas, on the other hand, has released two of the best albums of their career.

The title cut is a stone classic, comparable to any of the classics they released in the ’70s and ’80s. Ronnie Platt’s vocals are excellent, as is David Ragsdale’s violin work. Throwing Mountains is another terrific track with great energy and vocal/instrument interplay. The closer, The Song The River Sang, is a more straight-ahead rocker, and I love it.

Trace of Memory

The UK’s Sanguine Hum has new album coming out in November, and I am pleased to report that it is one of their best. Their first album, Diving Bell, was one of my favorites of 2011, and the follow-up, The Weight Of The World is one of the best albums of the past decade. Guitarist/vocalist Joff Winks, keyboardist Matt Baber, and bassist Brad Waissman have forged a totally unique sound, while remaining wonderfully accessible. The only way I can describe it is to imagine a mix of Kraftwerk, Devo, XTC, and Steely Dan, with a little Frank Zappa. Like I said, they have a unique sound. After TWOTW, though, they lost their way, and spent two concept albums telling a story that was a little too cute for its own good (a perpetual motion machine powered by cats – who always land on their feet – with butter on their backs, because buttered toast always lands butter side down. Ha.)

Fortunately, A Trace Of Memory is a definite return to form. They have an unerring ear for a beautiful melody, as evidenced by the 13-minute track, The Yellow Ship. It’s also the finest composition they have ever recorded, as Winks’ querulous, everyman vocals establish the melody before they take off on an extended jam session that never meanders or loses focus. I can listen to this one track all day, but the rest of the album is almost as good. Sanguine Hum have hit upon the perfect ratio of instrumental to vocal tracks with this set, and I would love to see them perform them live.

Feelings Are Good

Finally, an album that almost slipped past me – Lonely Robot’s Feelings Are Good. Lonely Robot is John Mitchell, guitarist and vocalist extraordinaire who has lent his talents to The Urbane,  Arena, It Bites, and Frost*. The first three Lonely Robot albums formed a trilogy that chronicled the adventures of an unnamed astronaut. Feelings Are Good, on the other hand, is more down-to-earth in its subject matter. There are glimmerings of power pop (Into The Lo-Fi), hard rock (Spiders), prog (the Floydish Life Is A Sine Wave), and balladry (Crystalline). Anything Mitchell releases is guaranteed to be an enjoyable listening experience, and Feelings Are Good continues his streak. Highly recommended if you like classic Peter Gabriel or Frost*.

So, three albums, three winners. I think so highly of them that I have purchased hard copies. Do yourself a favor and at least give them a listen on your preferred music streaming service.

Burke on Monstrous Revolution and Regicide Peace ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Of Edmund Burke’s (1729-1797) four Letters on a Regicide Peace—his final work, written while he rested on his deathbed—the fourth is, by far, the weakest. Unlike the other three, it was written out of order, and it is unclear whether Burke himself ever intended to include it. It was more of a personal letter written to Earl Fitzwilliam than it was a letter for the public. It did not appear in Burke’s works until after the author’s death, and so we are left with it as somewhat of an interesting mystery and enigma. Despite these caveats, though, it is a letter written by Edmund Burke, and this means, of course, that there are fascinating aspects to it.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/10/burke-monstrous-revolution-regicide-peace-bradley-birzer.html

A Method, Not a Subject: Liberal Economics and the Classics

“A liberal curriculum can and should include liberal economics.  Both make sense only if we refuse to interpret the past under the assumption that our ancestors were morons.  Committing to rational choice, which in my framework is synonymous with liberal economics, is how we treat the Great Books with the respect they deserve.”

https://egnatiavia.blogspot.com/2020/10/a-method-not-subject-liberal-economics.html

The Astounding Pop of Max Parallax

A few weeks ago I received a pleasant surprise in the mail–an actual tangible CD submission. Being in my early 50s, I’m a huge fan of my music being real, touchable, and moveable. The CD arrived with funky, innovative layout, and I was immediately intrigued by the packaging.

As it turns out, the music is even better than the packaging.

This is pop-rock, but pop rock in the vein of Mazzy Star, Patty Smith, and Sixpence None the Richer. The music is equal parts driving and equal parts playful.

Infectious pop, the opening track “Bugs Away”–with some hilarious lyrics–grabs the listener immediately. The wall of sound on “Swell,” the second track, is perfect in every respect. Song three, “Out of Body: No Experience,” is, once again, driving, and the sound production is glorious. At a little over five minutes long, “No Time for Caution,” is the longest of the tracks, and like its fellow tracks, it’s tight and purposeful. “Amoebas,” the fifth song, is the most straight-forward in terms of being a rocker. I’m reminded a little of Pat Benetar. “What Happens in the Future Stays in the Future” is as wonderfully quirky as it sounds–packing more into two minutes and twenty-five seconds than allowed by law!

Max Parallax is a band that is here to stay, and the statement they make on this short album, NO TIME FOR CAUTION, fits perfectly with the title.

We’re in a helluva mess, and urgency must reign in our world. This is reflected in the lyrics as well as the music.

All four members of the band sing, but the real star here is Uma deSilva, lead vocalist. It wouldn’t be too much to state that her voice is divine.

Max Parallax should be in every music collection.

Music, Books, Poetry, Film

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