Hobbes’ “Leviathan”: A Collectivist Horror ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Perhaps no modern thinker best represented these changes than did Thomas Hobbes. In his seminal work, Leviathan, Hobbes called for the creation of a “mortal god”—the Leviathan—to counter and augment the will of the “immortal god.” In his view of society, man was utterly and completely depraved, incapable of anything but self-interest and cannibalism. “Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man,” he wrote. “For war consists not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known; and therefore the notion of time is to be considered in the nature of war as it is in the nature of weather.” As such, when men are left to their own devices, Hobbes laments, there can exist no industry, no agriculture, “no navigation; nor use of the commodities that may be imported by the sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The immortal god, Hobbes admits, has bestowed upon each of the natural right and liberty of self-preservation. Rather, however, than seeing this right as extending to all of mankind, we selfishly hoard the natural right for ourselves and use it as a pretext for violence upon and against our neighbor.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/12/hobbes-leviathan-collectivist-horror-bradley-birzer.html

Those Awkward Teenage Years – The 2010’s, pt. 2: 2011

In our continuing series of posts celebrating the music of the 2010’s, here is Chapter 2: 2011.

2011 was a relatively quiet year music- and prog-wise. I’ve chosen to highlight ten albums that have survived the test of time, and one or two might surprise. Once again, they are listed in alphabetical order.

Blackfield: Welcome To My DNA

A Steven Wilson side project with Aviv Geffen, Welcome To My DNA is their third release. This was a very nice, radio-friendly collection of songs (with one terrible misstep: Geffen’s “Go To Hell”).  With the benefit of hindsight, one can see the influence this project had on Wilson’s excellent To The Bone years later.

The Dear Hunter: The Color Spectrum

Casey Crescenzo took a break from his six-act arc of albums (still in progress, BTW) to record this nine EP collection of songs inspired by the color spectrum. It begins with black, and works through the rainbow to end at white. It sounds insufferably pretentious, but it works. Dear Hunter manages to master every conceivable style of rock, from hard-core industrial (black) to pleasant folk (yellow). If you missed this set, check it out. It is an amazing achievement.

Duran Duran: All You Need Is Now

Duran Duran were always far more than ’80s pinup boys. Simon LeBon is a fine lyricist, and their melodies stand the test of time. All You Need Is Now is a surprisingly strong album, where they come close to the peaks they reached in their heyday, after spending years wandering in the wilderness.

Glass Hammer: Cor Cordium

The second Glass Hammer album to feature vocalist Jon Davison, and it builds on the strengths of 2010’s If. Every track is a winner, with “To Someone” a particular highlight. Once again, the cover art is a hoot.

Neal Morse: Testimony 2

Neal Morse continued chronicling his conversion to Christianity, focusing this time on a miraculous healing of his infant daughter. As expected with Morse, the music is excellent as endlessly satisfying melodies pour forth. The bonus disc contains three of his finest compositions: “Absolute Beginners”, “Supernatural”, and the 26-minute epic “Seeds Of Gold”.

Radiohead: King Of Limbs

Radiohead releases are few and far between, so when King Of Limbs showed up in 2011, it caused a stir. The first five tracks are dominated by relentless rhythm – maybe they’d been listening a lot to Philip Glass and Steve Reich? Anyway, it isn’t until “Codex” that a real melody shows up. “Give Up The Ghost” and “Separator” close things out on a relatively gentle note.

Rush: Time Machine

A DVD/CD set that documented Rush’s performance in Cleveland. Rush has released a lot of concert videos, and this is one of their best. They weren’t touring in support of a specific album, so they cover songs from every phase of their long career, and even preview a couple from the not-yet-released Clockwork Angels.

Sanguine Hum: Diving Bell

When I first heard this group, I was very excited. They managed to meld Devo-like rhythms to XTC-worthy tunes while creating a sound all their own. This was the strongest debut album of 2011, and is still a joy to listen to.

Steven Wilson: Grace For Drowning

Steven Wilson’s second solo album, and it put to rest any hopes of Porcupine Tree working together again. This was an ambitious two-disc set that ran a gamut of styles. Wilson is an inspired composer of seductive melodies (“Deform To Form A Star”), and he isn’t afraid to wear his influences on his sleeve, i.e. late-’60s Beach Boys or King Crimson. Like a lot of double albums, it might have been stronger as a single disc.

Yes: Fly From Here

Just when you think you’ll never hear anything new worth hearing from Yes, they surprise you with a strong album like Fly From Here. This one featured vocalist Benoit David, from the Canadian group Mystery, and it included Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes from Drama days. One of their best late-career efforts.

And that wraps up our musical look back to 2011. Not the most productive year with regard to prog, but just wait until 2012 – the floodgates are about to open!

 

Those Awkward Teenage Years – The 2010’s, pt. 1: 2010

Now that we are nearing the end of another decade, it seems appropriate to take a look back at some of the fine music that was produced in the past ten years. This is the first of ten posts – one for each year – of the decade that went from compact discs through mp3 files to streaming. So, in alphabetical order, here are some notable albums from 2010:

Anathema: We’re Here Because We’re Here

It’s nice to kick off our list with my favorite album of 2010! What a great collection of songs that proudly announced the new, sleek, and sophisticated Anathema. This album was a peak in their career, as it explored the mystery and loss that is inextricably bound up in the death of a loved one.

Big Big Train: Far Skies, Deep Time

The patron band of Spirit of Cecilia? Looking back at this “EP” (the playing time runs a generous 41:00), it’s hard to believe how far BBT has come. And yet, this contains indispensable songs from their canon like “British Racing Green” and “The Wide Open Sea”. This is definitely NOT a stopgap released to please fans between full albums.

Broken Bells

The debut collaboration between the Shins’ James Mercer and Danger Mouse, Broken Bells managed to transcend both the Shins’ and Mr. Mouse’s other work. The opening notes of “The High Road” never fail to bring a smile to my face. Off-kilter pop that is timeless.

Crowded House Intriguer
Crowded House: Intriguer

Neil Finn is one of the greatest songwriters, ever. This album by Crowded House is a fitting swan song to their career: somewhat subdued and very sophisticated pop.

DTP Addicted
DTP: Addicted

Devin Townsend is a gifted and restless soul who is constantly exploring new areas of music. In 2010, his Devin Townsend Project released this slab of power-pop-metal that is one of his most enjoyable listens. It doesn’t hurt that Anne Van Giersbergen lends her angelic voice to the proceedings, and “Supercrush!” has one of the most addictive hooks in the history of rock.

Engineers: In Praise Of More

The third album from Engineers was a definite letdown after the glorious shoegazey roar of Three Fact Fader. Adding Ulrich Schnauss seemed to have smoothed off the rough edges and introduced an “ambient” element. However, it was still one of the better releases of 2010.

Gazpacho: Missa Atropos

This was my introduction to Norwegian proggers Gazpacho, and I admit I wasn’t particularly impressed. However, I gave their earlier album, Night, a listen, and Missa Atropos started to make sense. Now they are one of my favorite groups.

Glass Hammer: If

The first Glass Hammer album to feature Jon Davison on vocals, and it is a wonderful work. An album I never tire of listening to, and it has some of their finest songs ever, including “If the Stars/If The Sun”. The cover art is a hoot.

Lunatic Soul II

The second effort by Riverside’s Mariusz Duda continued the atmospheric and world music vibe of the first. In this chapter, the soul of the person who died in the first album finds a home after wandering around in the afterlife. A great listen on headphones.

Pineapple Thief: Someone Here Is Missing

This was Pineapple Thief’s bid for the prog big leagues, but it missed the mark. Bruce Soord’s songwriting had tightened up quite a bit, but his best work was still ahead of him (i.e. Magnolia, Your Wilderness, Dissolution). If you were a PT fan in 2010, though, this was a very nice listen, and the Storm Thorgerson cover was intriguing.

Porcupine Tree: Anesthetize

And we wrap up our stroll down Memory Lane with the kings of early 2000s prog, Steven Wilson’s Porcupine Tree. This was a recording of a 2008 concert, released in 2010. They play the entire Fear of a Blank Planet album along with other songs from their vast catalog, and it is a phenomenal performance. If anyone wonders what all the commotion about Porcupine Tree was about, this is the one work that proves how great they were.

I hope this post brought back some fond memories of the beginning of the decade. These are personal favorites – if you have others, let us know in the comments!

 

QUICK HITS: Bradley Birzer A weekly rapid-fire interview – Hillsdale Collegian

Where did you attend college? Notre Dame for undergrad. Indiana Uni­versity for graduate school. How did you propose to your wife? I wrote out 95 reasons why she should marry me and posted them on the cathedral door in Helena, Montana because she was Lutheran. I took her there at about 20 minutes to mid­night on Feb­ruary 12th of 1998. She said yes. If you were on a desert island, what three books would you bring? “The Lord of the Rings,” the Bible, and “City of God.” You’re on a desert island and get access to one website.  What do you choose? The Imag­i­native Con­ser­v­ative. Would you rather climb Mount Everest or go to the bottom of the ocean in a sub­marine? Everest. Do you have any super­sti­tions? I believe in ghosts.
— Read on hillsdalecollegian.com/2019/12/quick-hits-bradley-birzer-a-weekly-rapid-fire-interview/

Amazon’s mystifying paper catalogs – Six Colors

When I was a kid, I loved, loved the Sears Wish Book. It was a catalog full of toys and games and pajamas and other stuff kids might want to put on their gift-request lists. I can still smell the ink on the paper of the Wish Book. I want that Star Wars toy and this video game and, no, I don’t want that pillow, c’mon mom, who wants a pillow for Christmas?

Clearly someone at Amazon has been thinking of the power of colorful print catalogs to promote products, because last month, we got an 89-page catalog from Amazon in our mailbox, titled “Play Together: Amazon’s Ultimate Wish List for Kids!”
— Read on sixcolors.com/post/2019/12/amazons-mystifying-paper-catalogs/

Cyril – The Way Through

Earlier this year, I posted a review of one of my favorite albums of 2019, Manuel Schmid and Marek Arnold’s Zeiten. Mr. Arnold was kind enough to comment on it, and he mentioned that he and Mr. Schmid have another project: Cyril, which is a full-fledged prog rock group.

Cyril’s latest album is The Way Through, which was released last spring. It is a terrific work, showcasing the talents of Marek Arnold (keyboards, sax), Manuel Schmid (vocals, keyboards), Ralf Dietsch (guitars), Clemens Litschko (drums), Denis Strassburg (bass), and Larry B. (vocals). Guy Manning from Damanek wrote the lyrics.

The Way Through is a concept album about a man who has a near death experience. In “The Gate”, he rises above his dying body, and he notices

There is a light in the darkness here
I feel its call
I know in my heart that I must journey on
and find the way through
One step into night, one last look behind
In silence I walk
If I am to live once again I must meet my life
Head on and right the wrongs

And right the wrongs of his life he does. Each of the following three songs chronicles his efforts to atone for mistakes he made in his life. “My Own Reflection” is a portrait of him as a young boy who is near despair. His spirit gives his young self comfort and courage.

“First Love (A Lullaby)” is a beautiful song about revisiting his first love and treating her with respect and tenderness as their relationship ends.

“Get Up High” is a ferocious rocker that expresses his confusion and panic as he realizes he is trapped in a maze of trees with no direction home. Things settle down for the gentle and enchanting “A Sign On The Road”, where he has a choice to make:

‘To sleep not dream’ or “To dream not sleep’
What does it mean? Cos I must decide now

He chooses life (to dream, not sleep), and returns home to his body. But is he really alive, or still in a dream?

Cyril’s music is simply gorgeous. Arnold, Strassburg, and Schmid are responsible for the melodies, and every track shines. Arnold’s sax work is exceptionally fine, lending a jazzy touch to the proceedings. Larry B and Manuel Schmid complement each other’s vocals perfectly.

In my review of Zeiten, I stated that that album was my favorite of 2019, but I’m afraid it’s been deposed. The Way Through is now the best of the year, in my opinion. Give it a listen, and enjoy the excellent musicianship of Cyril. You will not be disappointed!

Here is “The Wasteland – Home Again”: