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.

The Giant Achievement of Days Between Stations

Giants cover

It’s been 7 long years since we have heard from Oscar Fuentes Bills (keyboards) and Sepand Samzadeh (guitar), the duo who go by the moniker Days Between Stations. They have a new album out, Giants, and it is a contender for best of 2020. I love this album. It is produced by Billy Sherwood of Yes fame, who also plays bass, drums, and handles lead vocals on most of the songs. Colin Moulding, who sang The Man Who Died Two Times on their last album, returns to sing on Goes By Gravity, while Durga McBroom, who sang on several Pink Floyd songs sings lead on Witness the End of the World.

While their second album, In Extremis, was very good, Giants is a huge step forward for DBS. Did I mention I love this album? It kicks off with a clanging guitar chord reverberating from one speaker to another, and before you know it,  we’re on a rollercoaster of an epic named Spark

Spark of life
Soul expansion
Coming in waves
Point of view
Taking chances
You’re an act of God

Even though Spark lasts nearly 17:00 and is nonstop high energy, it never seems too long or forced. Samzadeh unleashes some terrific guitar solos worthy of David Gilmour, while Bills answers with vigorous organ fills.

Things calm down a bit for Witness the End of the World. Over an acoustic piano, guitar, and violin, McBroom delivers a sensitive vocal performance. This is a beautiful and tender waltz that mourns the inevitable loss all humans suffer.

Everything we once knew
Winding down
Witness the end of the world

Another Day begins with a slow tempo that gradually adds layers of instruments and vocal harmonies until it is a juggernaut of sound. It features an incredibly catchy chorus that gets in your head and won’t leave.

Goes By Gravity, sung by Moulding with his trademark wry vocals, is the poppiest song on the album, and is another earworm.

The title track is another epic, clocking in at 13:00, and is Bills’ tribute to his deceased father, the “giant” of his childhood, and a man he deeply admires. This is a tremendous song, with lots of space for Sherwood, Samzadeh, and Bills to stretch out and play off each other. Sherwood’s massed vocals are spine-tingling as he sings, 

Shaking the sky
Holding on to the reins
The Great Divide
Between memories and 
What remains

After the emotional experience of Giant, we are treated to an instrumental interlude that begins with a Bill Evans-like jazz passage on piano, transitions to a Bach-like fugue on acoustic guitar, and ends up with a guitar/synthesizer duet that reminds me of classic Genesis. (Side note: the cover art is by Paul Whitehead, who painted several classic covers for Genesis.)

The album wraps up with the magnificent The Common Thread. This is, hands down, the best song I’ve heard this year. Full of tricky time changes but always staying accessible and engaging, it progresses upward inexorably, gaining power with every bar. By the time we get to the final minute and the triumphant conclusion, I feel like I’ve reached the top of a mountain. This song is as good as anything Yes recorded in their classic incarnation.

Days Between Stations have only released three albums, but I’ve never seen such growth in group like they’ve accomplished with Giant. Billy Sherwood definitely deserves a lot of the credit, with his production, bass and drum work, and vocals. Their debut was all instrumental, their second was about half instrumental, whereas Giants is a full-bore progrock vocal tour de force. Album of the year? There are some strong contenders from Glass Hammer, Bardic Depths, Pendragon, Katatonia, Pain of Salvation, and Pineapple Thief, but right now Days Between Stations’ Giants is at the top of my list.

I ordered a CD from their website for my collection, and they included some DBS pencils and guitar picks. How’s that for customer service!

DBS picks

The video below is a nice sampler of the album:

IN THE DROPBOX: aYREON, flOWER kINGS, AND sHORT-hAIRED dOMESTIC

This week, I feel like the DropBox is in a holding pattern (with one exception). We have two well-established prog artists with new albums, but neither one indicates much artistic growth. Both are solid efforts that will certainly please die-hard fans, but I don’t see them attracting many new ones.

ayreon-e28093-transitus-600x600-1

Arjen Lucassen, the king of prog operas, has released a new magnum opus, Transitus. This is the first of his operas that isn’t tied to his Ayreon world in some way (although there is a sly reference the “The Human Equation”). Transitus is a Victorian ghost story/morality play that tells the story of two doomed lovers – one a wealthy young man and the other a servant of his – and how they overcome the barrier of death to be together.

If you’re an Ayreon fan, musically this fits in with everything Lucassen has done previously. There’s not a lot of new ground broken, but it’s hard to fault an artist for being so consistently good. Tommy Karevik (Kamelot) sings the lead role of Daniel, and Cammie Gilbert (Oceans of Slumber) takes the role of Abby. 

islands

The Flower Kings are never ones to stint their fans when it comes to providing music, and Islands is no exception. It is a big 2 CD album that features Roine Stolt’s trademark guitar work and laconic vocals. On this outing, I actually prefer the songs bandmate Hasse Froberg sings – he is a little grittier. According to Stolt, all of the songs revolve around the theme of isolation, hence the title. There are some beautiful moments in this sprawling set, particularly All I Need Is Love. Fans of the Flower Kings and Transatlantic will not be disappointed with this one.

short-haired-domestic-album-cover

This album is the most interesting one of this week’s batch. Short-Haired Domestic is Tim and Lee Friese-Greene, and their offering is not exactly prog, but it is some of the most delightfully quirky artpop I’ve heard in a long time. Every song is sung in a different language – Japanese, Bulgarian, Italian, German, Hindi, even Latin. It is funky, catchy as hell, and just plain fun. Tim is best known for his extraordinary production of Talk Talk’s last few groundbreaking albums, and Short-Haired Domestic makes clear he still has a few tricks to share with us.

Here’s the first single, A Song In Latin About The Importance Of Comfortable Shoes (yes, that’s the actual title):

Latest E-Book: A Biography of Miami Chief J-B Richardville

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Spirit of Cecilia Books is pleased to announce its latest ebook, Entangling Empires, Fracturing Frontiers: Jean-Baptiste Richardville, 1760-1841, the life and times of a Franco-Miami Indian Chief.


Reigning in the western Great Lakes, Richardville controlled what is now known as Fort Wayne, and he navigated the Miami Indians through the hazards of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and forced removal to western lands.


If you’re interested in a review copy (to review at amazon or elsewhere), just let us know.


https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08KSDNFRC/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&qid=1602015670&refinements=p_27%3ABradley+Birzer&s=digital-text&sr=1-1&text=Bradley+Birzer