Rhiannon Giddens & Francesco Turrisi’s There Is No Other was one of my favorite albums of 2019. Reviewing it, I described it as
A sweep of traditions and times woven together . . . one of those albums that Duke Ellington might termed ‘beyond category,’ resonating with the core of our shared humanity.
Giddens and Turrisi’s breathtaking new effort They’re Calling Me Home does it again. Recorded in Ireland under lockdown conditions with limited guests, the duo spin shimmering sonic webs with viola, banjo, guitar, accordion and hand percussion, enlivening a brilliantly eclectic gamut of spirituals, folk songs, hymns, Baroque arias and striking originals.
And as always, Giddens’ incomparable voice compels your attention, tracing the commonalities of these variegated songs across the centuries — caressing Monteverdi’s “Si dolce e’l Tormento” and the Anglo-Appalachian “When I Was in My Prime,” testifying to a hope beyond reason on “I Shall Not Be Moved,” staring down mortality itself on a vehement, haunted version of “O Death:”
Separated from their extended families in North Carolina and Italy by the pandemic, Giddens and Turrisi have made, essentially, an album of laments; They’re Calling Me Home faces up to the spectres of separation (temporary and permanent) that continue to stalk our world. But strengthened by the confrontation, they — and we — come out the other side refreshed, able to rejoice in the life and love still there for us to find and cherish.
Dedicated to the British people in the midst of war, Christopher Dawson’s 1942 The Judgment of the Nations is everything a history book should be but rarely is. With lively prose and ceaselessly innovative ideas, Dawson considers the role of Providence in history and produces a twentieth-century version of St. Augustine’s City of God. Modern evils and totalitarianisms, he notes, are the results of the shallowness of liberalism and the wickedness of progressivism, each conspiring to make men nothing but cogs in a grinding machine.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/04/10-books-every-imaginative-conservative-should-read-bradley-birzer.html
Frost*’s upcoming album, Day and Age, showed up in the DropBox this past weekend, and considering their last one, Falling Satellites, was one of my top 5 of 2016, I immediately plugged it into the USB port of my home stereo. After eight consecutive listens and picking my jaw up off the floor, I have to state up front that Day and Age is Jem Godfrey, John Mitchell, and Nathan King’s finest achievement. Ever.
The album opens with the title track, and it is a galloping monster straight out of the gate. A young boy tells the listener to “enjoy yourselves, you scum!”, a relentless beat is established, and one of the most addictive keyboard/guitar riffs ever recorded takes charge. I think Frost* must have been listening to a lot of Synchronicity-era Police before writing this song, because it reminds me of that massive, tense, steamroller of a song, “Synchronicity II”. It is a masterpiece of controlled chaos that builds inexorably for nearly 12 minutes. There’s even a little ska-like section at the 5:33 mark that makes the Police invocation explicit. However, in a battle of the bands, Frost* would beat the pants off Messrs. Sumner, Copeland, and Summers. This is an incredible track, and after I heard it for the first time, I wondered if the rest of the album could possibly hit the high bar it set.
I need not have worried, as every song on Day and Age is equally strong. There is not a single clunker on the album. I don’t what lit a fire under John Mitchell, but his vocals have never sounded more impassioned (and he’s sung quite a few songs with a lot of passion!). The core of the group is Jem Godfrey (keyboards, vocals), John Mitchell (guitars, bass, vocals), and Nathan King (bass, keyboards, vocals). They have enlisted the talents of three different drummers – Pat Mastelotto, Darby Todd, and Kaz Rodriguez – and each one provides perfect support depending on the needs of the song.
“Terrestrial” is the first single, and it is a great choice – melodic, energetic, and leaving the listener wanting more:
“Waiting for the Lie” is a keyboard-based ballad that provides a nice respite from the fast-paced previous tracks. It features a beautiful melody that is allowed to shine through a no-frills production. “The Boy Who Stood Still” is a spoken-word allegory about a boy who, you guessed it, stood still. So still, that he disappeared. The narrator tells the tale over an infectious bed of ’80s – era synths and skittering drums. It sounds weird, but it is oddly attractive.
“Island Life” begins with some waves on the beach as washes of synths and some arpeggiated guitar (there’s that classic Police vibe again!) as Mitchell sings of escaping a dreary life and “living in this island life”. “Skywards” is my second-favorite song (after the title track), with some especially beautiful chord progressions in the melody. You think you know where it’s going, and it takes an unexpected turn and ends up even better than you anticipated.
Wait, did I say “Skywards” was my second-favorite song? I actually meant “Killing the Orchestra”! An electric piano and delicate vocals introduce this one, and it gradually builds into a mini-symphony that includes Mitchell’s best guitar solo of the album. It is nine and half minutes of musical bliss that segues immediately into the closing track, “Repeat to Fade”, that reprises some of the themes from the title track. This is a terrifically dense and claustrophobic track that features Mitchell hollering, “Enjoy yourselves, you scum!” Sounds oppressive, I know, except that the melody is very uplifting and makes the dark atmosphere bearable.
Nathan King recalls the writing and recording of “Repeat to Fade”: “We were 30 feet by the sea, next to a nuclear power station and a lighthouse, in midwinter! …in my head you can absolutely hear the bleak isolated oppression having an effect on us.”
The recording conditions may not have been ideal, but Jem, Nathan, and John have managed to produce a pop/prog masterpiece of an album from them. I’ve listened to it a dozen times now, and I find new delights every time.
Thanks to Big Big Train’s most recent newsletter, we now have news of a new online record store in the U.S., serving North America. The Bandwagon USA. Thrilled to have this news, and, for us Americans, let’s please support The Bandwagon USA as much as we can.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!! Imagine if you will . . .
From silence, a seven note riff on piano, celeste and harpsichord, cycling over two repeated bass notes. Recorded so intimately you hear the piano’s damper pedals lift, as much a part of the cycle’s rhythm as the melodic tones.
About a minute and a half in, the cry of a saxophone. First responding to the keyboard cycles, then skirling continuously over them. Electric piano creeps in to fill the empty sonic crevices while the London Symphony’s strings pass above, dividing from a unison note into clustered washes. The blues are unmistakably evident from Pharaoh Sanders’ first note — and somehow the emotion he conveys is echoed in the ethereal, dissonant orchestral blanket.
The riff cycles, the sax and strings ebb; Sam Shepherd (aka Floating Points) steps forward with hesitant, mellow yet insistent synthesizers. Then, unexpectedly, Sanders vocalises — running scales, lip trilling, removing his horn from the equation and trusting us with his unadorned humanity, to gripping, gorgeous effect.
As he picks up the sax again, the mood and the eternal motif shift to match. Darker, thicker keys in a minor mode support grittier, more active improvisation and a stark synthesized squall by Shepherd, before subsiding to quiet counterpoint behind the unending riff.
Sanders leaps in once more — only to give way to a sustained, yearning solo cello solo that awakens the orchestra. The meditation that ensues is another moment of sheer beauty — gigantic, suspended unison lines that become a breathtaking mash-up of spiritual jazz and the English pastoral tradition, John Coltrane and Ralph Vaughan Williams locked in brotherly embrace.
The string chords pile up, mounting through consonance to dissonance — then collapse! In the ensuing silence, a quiet violin, answered by electric piano. Then, Sanders — this time so hushed, yet so gritty and breathy, over a fragile web of keyboard accents strung across the unstopping riff. A distant synth joins the dialog; Sanders cajoles it closer, helps it take more definite shape, then backs away, as Shepherd fires up free floating sequences across the stereo field and weaves a solo around them.
For the final time, Sanders breaks loose above the echoing, fading field of electronic sound, both conjuring up both the heady free jazz of his youth and the measured maturity of his long career into a memorable melodic volley. Shepherd returns to his subdued accents on synth, organ, electric piano; the riff patiently continues to cycle. Silence resumes its initial place in the piece, now dominant but not triumphant.
Until the riff stops! In its place, thick, ponderous organ chords that trail off into vibrato and echo. Total quiet; a slow-growing cloud of treated strings that burst into glittering fireworks, then subside into the final silence.
Fortunately, you don’t have to imagine this. Floating Points’ remarkable collaboration with Pharoah Sanders and the LSO is real. And moving. And my favorite album of the year to date. Listen to it below, then get it for yourself via Bandcamp.
To my mind, these voices have never been more needed and more relevant. A humanist but certainly no conservative, George Orwell once famously remarked, “we have now sunk to a depth at which the re-statement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”
In this fine Orwellian tradition, it is worth remembering three things, each of which reminds us what it means to conserve our most cherished traditions—that is, to be a traditional conservative—even in a time of chaos.
First and foremost, we must remember that every single person is an unrepeatable center of dignity and freedom, each a moral and ethical agent, endowed with free will, and born in a certain time and certain place, never to be repeated. Life matters, and it is a precious gift every single time it appears. That is, each person is a unique reflection of the Infinite, a bearer of the Imago Dei, and a Temple of the Holy Spirit. No matter how much corruption a person puts on during this lifetime, he or she remains precious, at least at the heart of things. For even the most corrupt human being has within him the spark of divine grace, no matter how close to being smothered that spark is. “In Him, we move and live and have our being,” the Stoics and St. Paul assured us
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/04/what-remains-conservatism-bradley-birzer.html
Have known Ashutosh for 15 years, we actually worked together in three different companies in late 2000s. Around the same time we also picked up this habit of long distance motorcycle rides. Circa 2009 we did this two week ride from Bangalore to Cochin and back. This was roughly around the time we were let go from Freescale, so there was a lot of time to spare.
First day was mostly through rural inter-state highways until we reached Munnar. After a day of dreary sun, the sight of hills and green valleys were extraordinary. Spent few days exploring those winding roads flanked by tea estates, and dining at local tea shops. Sometimes even going off road, those less travelled routes, at one point we rode over this precarious wooden bridge, with 50 pounds of luggage strapped to the motorcycle. Road-side cardamom tea and snacks were the staple diet for few days.
At Cochin we stayed at my family home. More tea, but this time some of my relatives and childhood friends were there too. Eventually rode back up north through Alleppey coast and backwaters. En route we discovered this rustic farmhouse for that well deserved sleep, silence and pristine water — a rare experience for urban dwellers riding motorcycles.
My friends are few, but Ashutosh was one of them. We lost touch over the past few years, definitely wasn’t intentional. Life tends to get in the way. But, whether it’s in depth technical discussions at work, weekend movies, or long distance motorcycling, I remember him as civil and intelligent. A rare balanced individual who always did the right thing. We need more of his caliber, men and women who are aware, rational and wired with a sense of direct fairness.
(Adapted from the memorial shared with his surviving family)
Shortly after Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany for its atrocious invasion of Poland in 1939, one of the lesser-known Inklings, Owen Barfield (1898-1997; yes, Barfield lived to just short of his 100th birthday) offered a profound analysis on the way community works and on the way it should work. All of society, he noted with no small amount of poetic insight, arises from our associations and friendships and communities that bridge our individuality with our nationality. Being too much of an individual leads to the tyranny of the self, and being too much of a nationalist leads to a tyranny of others. Instead, the human person must find his or her context and serve within the bounds of overlapping and competing communities, friendships, and associations. Or, as Barfield so eloquently put it, we must “build up and maintain a common stock of thought rather than… startle with a series of sparkling individual contributions—like a commonwealth of the spirit, in which there is no copyright.”
Yet, to create a commonwealth of the soul, or, more directly, a republic of letters, we do need to know the limits and range of individualism as well as the limits and range of national character. As Barfield understood creation, there is nothing wrong with individuals bringing their unique and particular talents to the community. Indeed, to bring one’s excellences to the community is vital to the health of all involved. In so doing, not only do individual persons contribute to the common good, but they themselves discover through free will the virtues, especially that of charity, in dealing with others. Like all things, though, individuality can become perverted, a sort of self-absorption that demands that our fellow members of the community reflect us rather than reflect what they are meant to be (by God or nature). As such, we would become sons of pride rather than of humility.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/owen-barfield-commonwealth-spirit-bradley-birzer.html