The Psychedelic Furs are Back!!

Until roughly 24 hours ago, I had no idea that The Psychedelic Furs even existed any longer.  After all, the last official TPF album, the outstanding World Outside, came out in 1991.  That was twenty-nine years ago!  

After that, Richard Butler formed the extraordinary pop outfit, Love Spit Love.  Then, he more or less disappeared.  Well, it turns out—a huge thanks to Bill Huber for letting me know—The PF released a new album, Made of Rain, on the last day of July.  So, the album is just at a month old now.

I’ve listened to almost nothing else since downloading a copy from amazon.

Let me be blunt.  While this is no rehash of previous work, Made of Rain is everything a TPF album should be: odd; mysterious; cacophonous; fetching; catchy; deep; quirky; soulful; angry; melancholic; joyous; driven; clever; seeking; achingly beautiful; guttural; punctuated; jazzy; playful; and convicted.

I don’t have the lyrics in front of me, but Richard Butler sounds as good as ever.  Indeed, if there’s a difference in his vocal quality from 2020 to 1991, I can’t hear it.

Twelve tracks make up the album, and each one of them is a gem.  While some songs are immediately more striking than others, there’s not a dud track on the album.  All of the music is smart pop, intricate and compelling.  As with all TPF, there’s great guitar, bass, drums, and sax.

Made of Rain is a extraordinary achievement, and I’m so very glad to have Butler and Co. back in the music world.


So, recently I went riding around North Cascades. To the west of this wilderness is a set of towns hemming the US-Canada border. You can actually ride straight up to the boundary, and there were these twin roads separated by international lines. Speed limits posted in miles/hr on one side and km/hr on the other. But unlike the great wall of southern border, this was just more like a neighborhood fence. There were also strikingly similar ranches and farms on both the sides. But, of course, properties in the US had quite a few Trump/Biden signs. Thanks to the ongoing reality show.

Without being derisive we can all agree it’s sort of reality show right now. But this drama is not uniquely American, it’s quite common in all democracies. Electoral processes tend to exploit all our lower level instincts, and it’s only human to fall for it. Framers knew about this aspect to the masses, so they rightly engineered some institutional checks. In that sense, from cultural or Constitutional perspective, moving beyond baser instincts is something which makes Americans unique. That’s something which separates Americans, and in general the English tradition, from the rest.

So, minding your own business might be more American than political activism. Wearing no signs is probably more American than Black/Blue lives matter badge. Waving/burning flag probably makes you less of an American compared to not caring about the flag itself. Same is the case with worshiping political idols, celebrating defense, law enforcement etc. All these things are common across the world, nothing uniquely American about it. In short, American exceptionalism is about avoiding these very trappings. It’s about employing slightly higher levels of cognition, sensibility etc. It’s about focusing on underlying truth and not getting distracted by symbols or personalities. It’s about seeing subtle complexities, about realizing actions, even with good intentions, can have negative consequences. Eventually it’s a lot about being decent, responsible individuals. Seems like, being a real American is not that difficult, but that humility is still quite uncommon.

Profoundly Tangible: Nick D’Virgilio’s Invisible

Being a fundamentally HUGE (yes, it’s that large!) fan of Big Big Train, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Nick D’Virgilio’s solo album, Invisible.  I proudly own his first album, Karma, his first EP, Pieces, every Spock’s Beard album, and Rewiring Genesis.  To be sure, I presumed I would like Invisible, as I consider NDV our greatest living drummer, armed not only with rhythm (Holy Moses–that drum kit!) but with vocal prowess as well. And, from what I can tell from social media, he seems like a truly good and genuine person.  

All of this adds up to high expectations for Invisible.

Well, it is even better than I expected. And, I expected a lot.

If you asked me to sum it up in a few words or even analyze it track by track, I couldn’t do it.  This is a whole work of art—something to be digested in one sitting. Relentlessly captivating, it mixes progressive rock with classical with (ok, I was surprised by this one) with 1960’s style R&B with some mid-1970’s Styx with some punk-tinted Rush with broadway musicals with electronica with funk with straightforward rock and pop.  Frankly, Invisible has it all. In this sense, it fits Andy Tillison’s definition of progressive—basically, “whatever I damn well want to throw in, I throw in” (my words, not Andy’s).

What most captures my imagination with the album, though, is NDV’s lyrics—so utterly earnest and so uplifting.  In every song, NDV calls us to be our best. That NDV loves life is a certainty as certain that the sun will rise tomorrow, and his joy comes through every song.

If you’re looking for a new BBT or Spock’s Beard album, this isn’t it. And, that’s perfectly fine.  Frankly, it doesn’t even really seem like a simple evolution from NDV’s previous solo efforts.

Invisible is . . . beyond all of this in ways that are very difficult to put into words.  

But, if you’re looking for something gorgeous, something meaningful, something real, something inspiring. . . look no further.  If anything, NDV has proven that real life is quite the opposite of being invisible. Rather, NDV calls us to be our best, to be tangible, and, frankly, to be the incarnate souls we’re meant to be.

To find out everything about NDV, click here:

Passion Incarnate: IZZ’s Half-Life (2020)

Well, let me admit, immediately and without hesitation, I’ve been a huge fan of IZZ since I first heard them a little over a decade ago. In everything they do, they combine passion, taste, and elegance.  One might even describe their music as an earnest intensity.  Lyrically, the band never dumbs itself down, but offers words of majestic inspiration and serious contemplation. 

Their latest release is an EP, appropriately and rather cleverly entitled Half-Life, itself comprised of three new tracks and one live track.  The three new tracks—entitled, in order, “The Soul of Music,” “Into the Sun,” and “Half Life”—offer grand progressive visions, reflecting, respectively, IZZ’s deep appreciation and love of Kate Bush and Chris Squire and Yes;  Rick Wakeman and Big Big Train and ELP; and, perhaps most interestingly of all, Stranger Things(the Netflix series) and Kansas and Glass Hammer.  

None of IZZ’s appreciation of other progressive rock acts gets in the way of that uniquely beautiful IZZ voice.  Indeed, such appreciation on the part of IZZ of other bands only makes IZZ all the more interesting, honed, and glorious. And, just in case it might seem like the music overwhelms the listener, the lyrics simply soar, especially on “Half Life,” bringing the listener to the verge of tears in the last several second of the track.

The final track is a rather stunning live rendition “The Weight of It All” from the band’s Ampersand, Vol. 1, album.

In this current whirligig of viruses, protests, injustices, and anxious unrest, do yourself a grand, grand favor—treat yourself to the humane, cultivated, and class act that is IZZ.  Your soul will thank you.

[To support IZZ (and for a mere $5), click here:]

Beauty Against the Data Lords: The Maria Schneider Orchestra

Beauty like that is strength. One could turn the world upside down with beauty like that.

Doestoevsky, The Idiot

Over the past three decades, Minnesota-born composer Maria Schneider has staked out her own unique territory, based in jazz but expanding beyond category. From classical training and an apprenticeship with master arranger Gil Evans, Schneider parleyed her vivid sense of musical color, vibrant compositions and power-packed conducting skills into the leadership of a 20-piece Jazz Orchestra. At the height of the 1990s jazz boom, Schneider’s ensemble maintained a weekly residence at the New York club Visiones and recorded three fine, critically acclaimed albums (Evanescence, Coming About and Allegresse) for the German label Enja.

Reacting nimbly to the Internet’s disruption of music’s value, Schneider pivoted to crowdfunding for her 21st-century recordings. Concert in the Garden, Sky Blue and The Thompson Fields (along with Winter Morning Walks, a classical song cycle composed for soprano Dawn Upshaw) inhabit a rareified sweet spot where composition and improvisation feed each other, fusing the potent swing of classic big bands and the lush warmth of orchestral tone poems to evoke a deep-rooted, constantly unfolding delight in the world of nature.

But in 2014, David Bowie recruited Schneider and her orchestra for the jolting noir single “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime).” The collaboration didn’t just boost Schneider’s profile (and result in sax player Donny McCaslin and guitarist Ben Monder backing Bowie on his swan song Blackstar); it unlocked a grainier, more shaded musical vocabulary, evident in her most recent commissions. This expansion also mirrored Schneider’s dedicated activism on behalf of copyright owners, pushing back against Big Data’s predation on both creative content and personal information.

The new Maria Schneider Orchestra double album Data Lords is the magnificent result, their most complete statement to date. Conveying both the bleak potential of online life blindly lived and the bounteous beauty of the life around us we take for granted, Schneider conjures up slow-burning musical structures that, as they catch fire, blaze with fear and dread — but also with hope and joy. Throughout there’s a symphonic sweep, a supple rhythmic foundation and a seamless flow of inexhaustible melody.

Continue reading Beauty Against the Data Lords: The Maria Schneider Orchestra

Heartfelt and Intelligent: Auto Reconnaissance by The Tangent

In the not so distant past, I had the opportunity (and, perhaps, the gall) to label Andy Tillison the “G.K. Chesterton of progressive rock.” As I listen to the latest release by Tillison’s band, The Tangent, I can only nod in approval at my earlier assessment.  He has always been a master of story, but, on Auto Reconnaissance, he reveals himself as a master of story telling. Light your pipe, sip from your pint, and pull yourself up next to the fire. Tillison has several tales to tell, and he does so in the best way, as a friend rather than a teacher.

Auto Reconnaissance begins with the discovery of radio—not just its function, but it’s essence—on “Life on Hold.”  It’s a short piece, by The Tangent standards, but it offers the perfect introduction to an album that demonstrates the wonder of life.

The second track, the second longest on the album, “Jinxed in Jersey,” tells the story—quite convoluted at times—of Tillison’s journey to the Statue of Liberty. Naturally, the story can be understood at many different levels, the literal but also the symbolic. If, on track one, the boy Tillison discovered the workings of radio, on track two, the adult Tillison discovers the realities and complexities of America.  The renaissance—or was that reconnaissance?—continues.

The third song, “Under Your Spell,” has a Tears for Fears feel, akin to “Working Hour” on Songs from the Big Chair.  Melancholic in theme, the song is tasteful to the extreme.

“The Tower of Babel,” track four, is the shortest on the album, but it’s intense and unrelenting with its disco-esque beat. A clever look at the techno-babble of the modern world, as the song’s title indicates, Tillison wonders just how we manage to speak to one another with so many types of technologies (where is that simple radio of track one!?!?) and so much noise in our modern whirligig of a very human (and very flawed) world.  “The system is human, too!”

At nearly one-half of an hour long, “Lie Back and Think of England,”—a jazzy, pastoral meditation—provides the brilliant backbone to the album.  Where are those hills and those dales?  On this track, especially, Tillison proves his title as the Chesterton of the prog world.  The song’s structure harkens back to the first two albums of The Tangent, and it is a gorgeous harkening, filled with passionate solos and musical lingerings and wild segues.

The final track of the album, “The Midas Touch,” provides the proper conclusion to such a complex album, offering a jazz-fusion odyssey.

The previous two The Tangent albums were deeply (and, at times, distractingly) political, but this album is appreciatively cultural. Indeed, it is Tillison and the band at its absolute best.  Heartfelt, clever, tasteful (yes, I know I’ve used this word already in this review) and, most of all, intelligent, Auto Reconnaissance is a true work of art, taken as a whole and even analyzed in parts.  Tillison proves that he remains England’s red-headed mischievous genius.

In The DropBox: Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly & Pain of Salvation

For the past week I have been listening to new albums from Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly and Pain of Salvation. They are labelmates on InsideOut, and they are both excellent efforts.

I’m familiar with Sjöblom through his stellar work with Big Big Train, and he also led Beardfish. Gungfly is now his outlet for his solo work. For their second release, he has pared down Gungfly to a trio with Petter and Rasmus Diamant on drums and bass respectively, while Rikard tackles everything else – and “everything else” covers a lot of instruments!

Overall, it’s a rocking effort with Sjöblom’s vocals running the gamut from a warm and intimate tenor to a harsh low-register rasp. The first track, Traveler, immediately grabs the listener with a driving rhythm that conveys an urgent sense of movement. Sjöblom sings of the difficulties of traveling and being away from family. The fact that its more than 13-minute length feels much briefer is a testament to how well it is constructed.

Happy Somewhere In Between, the first single, is a catchy rocker with a bit of a hoedown feel to it. The rhythm section of the Diamant brothers really shines on this track, effortlessly keeping pace with some very tricky changes.

Clean As A Whistle is a pleasant change of pace with an acoustic guitar opening and a beautiful melody worthy of Nick Drake. It slowly builds in intensity until it explodes into a synthesizer/electric guitar jam.

Alone Together is a song that tugs at the heartstrings. It is a sensitive portrayal of the emotional turmoil parents of mentally ill children have to deal with. Sjöblom’s guitar solos remind me of Steve Howe’s work on Relayer. 

After the brief folky interlude of From Afar, the album closes with the epic On The Shoulders Of Giants. In this delightful track, Sjöblom pays tribute to his prog forebears:

“What happened to me?
The boy who listened to Frank Zappa
And said, ‘This is what I want to be.'”

Sjöblom makes good use of nearly all of its 15 minutes length with some fine guitar work that showcases his talent. Alone Together is a very solid effort from Gungfly, and it illustrates Sjöblom’s mastery of guitar and keyboards as well as his maturity as a lyricist.

Pain Of Salvation’s Panther opens with a chugging, synth-heavy riff on Accelerator. It could fit right in with current “Synthwave” scene with its slightly retro sound paired with contemporary production. As always, Daniel Gildenlöw’s vocals are outstanding – his energy and passion never flagging for a moment.

Unfuture opens with a snaky acoustic blues riff that soon explodes into a full metal treatment which then retreats into a more subdued passage as Gildenlöw sings (as far as I can decipher), “Welcome to the new world/Which sounds sublime/A better and improved world/For our mankind.” This is a song dripping with menace and foreboding, yet sounding seductive and enticing.

In Gildenlöw ‘s words, “Panther is an album with many layers, but at the heart of it you will find my lifelong struggle to calibrate my interface towards mankind, trying to calculate the offset to a species that I have on some levels always felt myself estranged to. A feeling I think many can relate to. ”

His alienation comes through loud and clear throughout the album, which covers an extraordinary range of musical styles. There isn’t a single clunker in the bunch, either. It’s very hard to pick a favorite song, but I  particularly like the title track with its 16(!) tracks of guitar and chorus of “How does it feel to be you?” she once asked me
I said “I feel like a panther trapped in a Dog’s world”.

Another highlight is Species, with the lines, “I stopped watching the news/It was hurting me so/All that matters beats through/Like plutonium glow.” A relentless and addictive guitar riff underpins his frustration with modern media manipulation.

Panther closes with the epic Icon, which, now that I consider it, is the best track on the album. Okay, I admit it – every dang song on this album is irresistible! With Panther, Pain of Salvation have come up with a masterpiece that perfectly captures our current state of isolation and anxiety. It is an artistic triumph, and one of the best releases of 2020.



The Sacrificial Love of Saint Maximilian Kolbe – The Imaginative Conservative

As the man pleaded his case, Father Maximilian Kolbe came forward and offered his life for the one pleading. The German commandant of Auschwitz—probably rather shocked—agreed, and Kolbe, with nine others, stripped naked and entered the 3-foot high concrete bunker… (essay by Bradley J. Birzer)
— Read on