How to Think about God: A Pagan “Mere Christianity” ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Cicero took this line of argumentation much further—and with much greater depth—in his famous dialogue, On the Laws. Here, though, Cicero’s speaker claimed that through reason the universe is one with God, offering a sort of intelligent pantheism. “Thus we can assume that the universe must possess wisdom and that the element which holds together all that exists excels in perfect reason. From this we see that the universe is in fact God and that the vital force of the universe is held together by this divine nature.” In and through its own reason, the universe also moves toward perfection, order, and harmony. From its beginning, the universe was good and wise, and it only moves towards an even greater goodness, truth, and beauty. In our contemplation of the good, the true, and the beautiful, we humans become better. “Humans have emerged for contemplating and imitating the universe. We are certainly not perfect, but we are a part of perfection.”
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/12/how-think-about-god-pagan-mere-christianity-bradley-birzer.html

Those Awkward Teenage Years – The 2010’s, pt. 4: 2013

We’re continuing our look back at the decade that is ending in a few weeks with a fond recall of 2013. It was another exceptional year in terms of high quality music, and I have selected fifteen albums that represent just how good that year was for lovers of prog and rock. Once again, my choices are in alphabetical order.

The Beatles: Bootleg 1963

Okay, this is certainly not prog, but the Beatles were the greatest rock group of all time. This is a huge collection of studio outtakes from 1963 that was initially available for purchase for only a few hours on iTunes. Why only a few hours? Because the 50 year copyright on them was set to expire if they weren’t made commercially available. Once they were put on the marketplace, their copyright was safe, and the music label could continue to make money off of them.

That said, these tracks are a fascinating glimpse into how good John, Paul, George, and Ringo were from the beginning of their recorded career. They hit their harmonies effortlessly, and their musicianship is excellent. This collection is now available on Apple Music, and it is worth checking out if you are a even a casual Beatles fan.

Big Big Train: English Electric Part 2; Full Power

Big Big Train followed up 2012’s English Electric Part 1 with English Electric Part 2, which was, in some fan’s eyes, even better. It opens with the propulsive “East Coast Racer” and includes the tender “Curator of Butterflies”. “The Permanent Way” pulls together several themes from the two parts beautifully.

Later in 2013, BBT released a deluxe 2-disc edition of Parts 1 and 2 with a changed running order and extra tracks entitled Full Power. I suppose it is the definitive edition, but I prefer the original separate albums.

Cosmograf: The Man Left In Space

One of my favorite albums of the decade is Cosmograf’s The Man Left In Space. It is a concept album about the anguish an astronaut goes through as he realizes he will not be returning home from his space voyage. Great music, sensitive lyrics, and snippets of audio conversations create a claustrophobic soundscape that is redeemed by the uplifting finale, “When the Air Runs Out”.

David Bowie: The Next Day

After he released Reality in 2003, Bowie announced he was retiring from music. Ten years later, The Next Day appeared. Reality was a career high point, but The Next Day is a worthy successor. In it, Bowie explores all of his eclectic musical interests, and delivers a terrific set of songs. The album cover is simply a vandalized version of his 1978 classic, “Heroes”, as if to say, “What’s past is past. Listen to me now.”

Days Between Stations: In Extremis

Los Angeles-based Days Between Stations released their excellent second album, In Extremis in 2013. It features Colin Moulding of XTC fame on the catchy “The Man Who Died Two Times”, and “Eggshell Man” is one of the best epics of the decade.

Ludovico Einaudi: In A Time Lapse

Einaudi is a classical composer and pianist, and In A Time Lapse is a superb collection of his minimalist-tinged compositions. Unabashedly melodic and romantic, this album is a beautiful listening experience.

Flower Kings: Desolation Rose

One of the strongest sets of songs Roine Stolt and the Kings ever recorded. Here’s what I wrote about it in my 2013 review: Desolation Rose is a dark and brooding jeremiad on the dangers of corrupt media and government, perpetual war and violence, and religious fanaticism. Freedom is not a given, and Desolation Rose is a dire warning to those who would trade it for “security”, whether by indiscriminately believing what governments and mainstream media tell us, or by neglecting critical thinking when it comes to the claims of deceptive religious figures. Each song segues seamlessly into the next, reinforcing the overall impact of the lyrics. It may take a few listens for them to take hold, but once they do, they are very powerful.

Haken: The Mountain

The Mountain was Haken’s third album, and it was a breakthrough. Every song is excellent, and “Paraidolia” is one of the best in their entire catalog. This album was my favorite of 2013 (yes, I liked it even more than BBT’s Full Power). Today, Haken is one of the top bands in progworld. This album shows why they deserve all the accolades.

KingBathmat: Overcoming The Monster

KingBathmat is the brainchild of John Bassett, and for a while in the mid-’10s it looked like they were going to conquer the world. Overcoming The Monster is their best album, and it is a hard-driving metal/psychedelic/progressive melodic masterpiece. “Kubrick Moon” is one of the weirdest yet satisfying songs I’ve ever heard.

Gary Numan: Splinter – Songs From A Broken Mind

Most people in America think Gary Numan is that one-hit wonder guy with the song about cars. He’s actually had a long career, with many ups and downs, and Splinter is an incredible return to form. Trent Reznor owes a lot to Numan, as Splinter illustrates. A very strong album, performed very well. The bass is absolutely thunderous, and the hooks Numan sets up sink in and won’t let go.

Rush: Vapor Trails, remixed

Not a 2013 album, but a welcome rerelease. The original 2002 album was greeted rapturously, because no one knew if Rush would ever perform together after Neil Peart’s personal losses. Once the initial excitement subsided, it was clear that the mix on Vapor Trails was a disaster. With this version, these fantastic songs can be heard as the band intended.

Sand

Matt Healey (North Atlantic Oscillation) released this solo album that could be another NAO set. It is a wonderful album, including an ode to Halley’s telescope (“Elegy For The Old Forty-Foot”). I’m a fan of anything NAO does, and SAND is an essential part of their catalog.

Sanguine Hum: The Weight Of The World

Sanguine Hum’s second album is even better than their excellent debut. The title track is 15 minutes of endlessly delightful pop that flies by in no time. The Weight Of The World is a career high that they have yet to surpass.

Sound Of Contact: Dimensionaut

One of the best albums of the decade. Simon Collins (son of Phil, with his father’s vocal and drum chops) and Dave Kerzner formed the creative nucleus of this band and released a terrific concept album about a being who can travel through different dimensions. “Mobius Slip” is one of the most exhilarating 20 minutes in rock. Too bad Collins and Kerzner couldn’t patch up their differences to work together again. We’re all poorer for it.

Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused To Sing

When I first heard Steven Wilson’s opening track to The Raven That Refused To Sing, I thought, “Hmm… Early ’70s Herbie Hancock fusion with Yes.” I’m not a fan of that particular mixture, but fortunately, track 2 is one of Wilson’s finest ever: “Drive Home”. I admire him for trying new things and never sitting still musically – that’s what keeps me interested in his work.

Other significant releases in 2013: Anathema’s concert set Universal, Blackfield’s IV, The Dear Hunter’s Migrant, Nosound’s Afterthoughts, and Tesseract’s Altered State. Let us know your favorites that we missed in the comments!

 

Those Awkward Teenage Years – The 2010’s, pt. 3: 2012

As I mentioned in Part 2 of this series, 2012 is when the floodgates open for prog releases. This post features 15 albums from that halcyon year, and it barely scratches the surface! So let’s dive into the great music 2012 had for us, in alphabetical order.

Anathema: Weather Systems

Anathema followed up the wonderful We’re Here Because We’re Here with the even better Weather Systems. Featuring a weather-related song cycle – “The Gathering Of The Clouds”, “Lightning Song”, “Sunlight”, and “The Calm Before The Storm” – Anathema produces a prog classic.

Big Big Train: English Electric Part 1

After a 2-year absence, Big Big Train returned in a big way with English Electric, Part 1. David Longdon is now fully integrated into the band, and his songwriting sparkles, particularly on joyous romps like “Uncle Jack”. One of BBT’s finest hours, ever.

Devin Townsend Project: Epicloud

All of the disparate styles Devin Townsend played with on previous albums is synthesized in this masterpiece. Power pop, metal, gospel -it’s all here in one big beautiful mess.

Echolyn: Echolyn (“Windows album”)

This album topped a lot of critics’ Best of 2012 lists, and rightly so. Every song is perfect, and “Some Memorial” may be the best they’ve ever done. This is a classic prog record that will still be lauded decades from now.

Flying Colors

This effort from the prog supergroup comprised of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Dave Larue, and Casey McPherson was a very impressive debut. Everyone participating subsumed his personality in service to the group, and the result was a lot of fun – reminiscent of the best of ’70s arena rock.

John Galgano: Real Life Is Meeting

This is a somewhat obscure gem by John Galgano, the bassist of Izz. It’s a quiet, beautiful, philosophical collection of songs that is truly charming. There is a lot of depth and solace in these songs.

Glass Hammer: Perilous

Glass Hammer continued its winning streak with the third album to feature Jon Davison. Perilous is one long song chronicling the adventures of two children trapped in a, well, perilous land populated by malignant beings. The music is appropriately exciting and compelling.

It Bites: Map Of The Past

John Mitchell (Arena, Frost*, Lonely Robot) took over It Bites’ reins for this marvelous concept album about a young man confronting his past and his tortured relationship with his father. “Wallflower” is one of his finest songs.

Arjen Anthony Lucassen: Lost In The New Real

Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon, among many other projects) released this solo effort in 2012, and it featured his love of science fiction themes. Many years in the future a cryogenically preserved man is revived and brought up to date with all the changes that have occurred in society while he was frozen. Along the way, Arjen gives us a history of rock while an evil Rutger Hauer narrates. Great fun.

Mystery: The World Is A Game

I’ve written a full post on this excellent band, and this is one of their best albums. It’s a perfect introduction to Mystery if you’ve never heard them. “Another Day” is a 19 minute song that ranks with the best epics in the genre.

North Atlantic Oscillation: Fog Electric

The second album by Kscope’s North Atlantic Oscillation still has their impossibly angelic vocal harmonies from the debut, but there is an undercurrent of unease in songs like “Savage With A Barometer”. Utterly unique sound, and one of the best albums of the decade.

O.S.I.: Fire Make Thunder

The fourth (and final?) album from the Office Of Strategic Influence. Jim Matheos (Fates Warning) and Kevin Moore (Dream Theater, Chroma Key) collaborate on another fine collection that is somewhat somber but always melodic. If you need music for a rainy afternoon, O.S.I. is the perfect choice.

Producers: Made In Basing St.

Another supergroup, this time composed of, surprise, producers. Trevor Horn, Lol Creme, Stephen Lipson, and Ash Soan (with a uncredited Chris Braide on vocals) combine to produce a wonderful pop confection. Too bad they only lasted for one album.

Rush: Clockwork Angels

In 2012, we had no way of knowing this would be Rush’s final album, but what an album to go out on. It was meant to be the soundtrack to a Kevin Anderson sci-fi novel, but it works well as a standalone work of art. Rush pulled out all the stops on their tour supporting it, and it remains a high point of their career.

Ultravox Brilliant
Ultravox: Brill!ant

This was a complete surprise – after decades of inactivity, the ’80s synth band Ultravox reunited in 2012 and put together this terrific set of songs. It was as if they never left, still at the top of their form. If you loved Vienna and Rage In Eden, then this is a must-have album.

That’s 15 albums from 2012, and I could have added many more. District 97, Downes Braide Association, Gazpacho, Headspace, Izz, KingBathmat, Pineapple Thief, Porcupine Tree, Storm Corrosion, Threshold, Time Morse, and Yppah all released outstanding records. Let us know what your favorites of 2012 were in the comments!

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!