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
The sky’s a billion burning eyes
A final sulfurous goodbye
In The Shining
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!