If all of this sounds too intelligent and too good to be a part of popular culture, it’s because it is! No, no, no. This is not pop. This is art. True, good, real, and beautiful. Imagine, for a moment, how many other manifestations of secular culture take seriously a Christian saint, let alone analyze the very stones used in the art of Byzantium? Truly, what this band offers us is a precious gem. And, while the members of the band (at least as far as I know) are not religious, they certainly take the religion of the past quite seriously. Not just Theodora, but the band has also written gorgeously on its previous releases about St. Edith, the granddaughter of King Alfred, the first great English king, the first to codify Anglo-Saxon common law, and the blessed recipient of Marian visions.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/05/big-big-train-grand-tour-bradley-birzer.html
Part II of our symposium. A second indepth look at the philosophy and emotions behind Big Big Train’s latest album, GRAND TOUR.
Beginning with genteel blushings and awed whispers, David Longdon’s vocals—so plaintive and so earnest and so full of wonder—begin Grand Tour by sharing hard-earned wisdom.
After all, this story begins far from home, and the craft in question flies along shadowed paths beyond all human sight, but never beyond human imagination. By whatever measure of success or failure, the craft made the attempt. And, by necessity, so did those who launched it in the first place.
Whatever the fate of that craft, it was made by human hands, and those hands should be celebrated. And, thus we should celebrate not just the act of creation but the very life that gave the very intelligence to act.
We are, after all, ALIVE!
And thus begins Big Big Train’s latest album, Grand Tour, a masterpiece even among masterpieces. Ostensibly, this hook—which catches onto the eighteenth-century ideal of English travel throughout the European continent and, especially, into and around the Mediterranean and Aegean—ties the latest album together. By employing such a story, the band can travel not only across space but also back through time. The album explores ideas and as well as biographies.
This is, simply put, an album for the intelligent and meaningful person.
With track three, “The Florentine,” the band looks at the very core of the Italian Renaissance and one of its four greatest figures, Leonardo.
On track four, “Roman Stone,” the band digs deep back into western civilization, finding the very stones that created the Roman Republic and the various Mediterranean powers of the ancient world. There is both regret at the loss and admiration at the gain. See what we once were, the band claims. See what we could’ve been, the band asks. After all, things that have broken have often been made whole again. Sometimes even with the very material that had fallen into ruin becomes the cornerstone.
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Given that this site’s patron is also the patron saint of music, it seems meet and just to review our favorite music. Thus, I give you the awesome Tad Wert’s first entry into the symposium, “What Hath the Train Wrought,” a deep look at Big Big Train’s GRAND TOUR.–Brad, editor
“GRAND TOUR” by Tad Wert
There are and can exist but two ways of investigating and discovering truth. The one hurries on rapidly from the senses and particulars to the most general axioms, and from them, as principles and their supposed indisputable truth, derives and discovers the intermediate axioms. This is the way now in use. The other constructs its axioms from the senses and particulars, by ascending continually and gradually, till it finally arrives at the most general axioms, which is the true but unattempted way.
–Francis Bacon, Novum Organum
Never let it be said that Big Big Train doesn’t think big. Their latest opus, Grand Tour, is a massive undertaking, taking the listener on a voyage from the cliffs of Dover to Italy, Constantinople, and out to interstellar space. Along the way, we pay our respects to Leonardo da Vinci, Saints Theodora and Justinian, exiled Prospero and Ariel, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Oh, and we mustn’t forget to say hello to Francis Bacon, the first “modern” thinker.
If this project were attempted by any other artist, they would be ridiculed for their pretentiousness. To BBT’s credit, they have done their research, and every song on this amazing album is filled with respect, appreciation, and love for their subjects. In the 18th and 19th centuries, every well-educated European took a “Grand Tour”, which included visits to famous cultural and religious sites, such as Rome, Florence, Paris, etc. Thanks to BBT, we can embark upon our own grand tour via their artistry.
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Its most famous member is Dave Gregory, formerly the lead guitarist for XTC. Like every member of the band, Gregory is an extraordinary musician pursuing a high art. He is also, I’m happy to note, a true gentleman and, like everyone in the band, a perfectionist. From the beginning of its existence, BBT has honed its complex song structures, riveting melodies, and gorgeous historical, poetic, and mythic lyrics. Almost all of the band’s songs celebrate excellence, innovation, and struggle. Typical themes include World War I and II ace fighters, beekeepers, medieval saints, architects, and survivors of trauma. Lyrically, the band is levels above almost anything being written in popular culture today, and, in the rock-pop world, certainly well beyond Elvis, Madonna, and Lady Gaga.
— Read on www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/an-ode-to-progressive-rock/
Bjorn Riis’s A STORM IS COMING (Karisma, 2019).
The sheer amount of creativity that comes out of northern Europe never fails to astound or move me. From the moment the Scandinavians became Scandinavians, some 1,200 plus years ago, they seem to have existed to hunt, to farm, and to create. Even the very word “edda”—so properly associated with northern mythology—is not native to Norse, but is a word that seems to have sprung out of the moment rather than out a specific culture. We remember edda as a story, but it more properly means a divine outburst of creativity. From the creation of the AllThing (the world’s first congress) to Sigrid Undset, the Scandinavians keep shocking into life a western culture that wants to die but won’t. What is it? Is it the cold? The bleak winters? The harrowing landscapes? The daring raids? I don’t know, but I do know I thank the good Lord for their existence.
When a small package recently arrived from Norway—labeled Karisma—I was thrilled. Nothing I ever receive from that small but mighty label is unimportant. Indeed, it has to rank as one of the most important labels in the rock world, equal to Kscope, Insideout, and Sound Resources. That I found the new Bjorn Riis solo album in that package made the arrival even better. Frankly, it made it perfect. From the moment I first encountered Riis’s band, Airbag, roughly ten years ago—thanks to the recommendation of my English friend, Richard Thresh—I liked the band. Granted, their first album sounded like a sequel to Pink Floyd’s ANIMALS, but it was gorgeous, nonetheless, and it had the very James Marsh/Talk Talk-esque cover, of the eyeball crying blood. What a combination of excellent things. Since 2009, Riis has proven his genius time and time again through Airbag (IDENTITY; ALL RIGHTS REMOVED; GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH; and DISCONNECTED), each more lyrically existential and more musically creative than the last.
As much as I fell for Airbag, I fell even more in love with this solo work. LULLABIES IN A CAR CRASH; COMING HOME; and FOREVER COMES TO AN END. If you put Mark Hollis, Roger Waters, and Steven Wilson into the same room, you might come out with something close to Bjorn Riis, but still not quite there. Riis takes the best from each, but his music is very much his own.
Riis’s latest, A Storm is Coming, is more volatile and less longingly melodic than previous albums. It’s still brilliant, though. It can move from silence to a wall of sound and back to delicate piano line in a matter of moments. The title fits. The storm is coming, and Riis offers an album that looks not into the storm, but out from it. Let me revise what I just said a bit—there’s loving melody all over this album, but it feels less sustained (intentionally) than on previous albums. Honestly, I couldn’t really listen to track five, “This House,” without noting that it is melodic—in a David Gilmour fashion—to the nth degree.
I’m seeing several websites label this as an EP, but it’s 52 minutes long, so I can’t imagine what one of Riis’s LPs might look like. Yes, this is a full-fledged album. No doubt about it.
And, it’s a thing of eddaic glory. Enjoy.
Crazily enough, Apple’s iTunes gave me the choice to categorize Giancarlo Erra’s latest album, ENDS, as either “new age” or classical. I had no idea that “new age” was still a category or a genre or a label or anything less than a slur when still employed. The whole process of choosing this reminded me of how much I despise labels—for people or for music.
There’s really only one proper description for Erra’s album, ENDS: art. Best known for his rather ethereal and spacy art rock band (oh, those labels again!), Nosound, ENDS is Erra’s first solo album. Eight songs long, the album feels most like a wordless song-cycle, a meandering and a deepening and a widening of several achingly gorgeous melodies. There’s certainly nothing resembling rock—of any variety—on this album, but the various keyboards and deeper strings bring the listener very close to the music of the spheres, with elements of Henryk Gorecki and Mark Hollis informing but not shaping Erra’s creation.
Even the very titles of the eight songs–III, II, I, VII, V, IV, VI, Coda—seemingly offer us nothing in the way of personality.
And, yet, ENDS is nothing but personality, beautiful and wide and deep—we are shown the very soul the artist. Not in an egotistical way, but in a perfectly humane way.
Above, I mentioned Gorecki and Hollis, but the more I listen to this glorious album, I feel as though I’m dwelling one of Bach’s adagios.
I’m very excited to announce that I have a forthcoming book (sometime this fall) from Angelico Press.
BEYOND TENEBRAE: Christian Humanism IN THE TWILIGHT OF THE WEST.
(initial) table of contents if you’re interested:
PrefaceIntroduction: Beyond Tenebrae
Section I: Conserving Christian Humanism• Humanism: A Primer• Humanism: The Corruption of a Word• The Conservative Mind• Burke and Tocqueville• What to Conserve?• Conserving Humanism
Section II: Personalities and Groups• T.E. Hulme: First Conservative of the Twentieth Century• Irving Babbitt’s Longings• Irving Babbitt and the Buddha• The Christian Humanism of Paul Elmer More• The Order Men• Willa Cather• Canon B.I. Bell• The Conversion of Christopher Dawson• Christopher Dawson and the Liberal Arts• The Gray Eminence of Christopher Dawson• Nicholas Berdyaev’s Unorthodoxy• Theodor Haecker: Man of the West• The Inklings• Two Tolkiens, Not One• Sister Madeleva Wolff• Peacenik Prophet: Russell Kirk• St Russell of Mecosta• Eric Voegelin• Eric Voegelin’s Gnosticism• Eric Voegelin’s Order• Flannery O’Connor• Clyde Kilby• Friedrich Hayek’s Intellectual Lineage• Ray Bradbury at His End• Shirley Jackson’s Haunting• Wendelin E Basgall• Julitta Kuhn Basgall• Ronald Reagan’s Ten Words• The Optimism of Ronald Reagan• Walter Miller’s Augustinian Wasteland• Alexander Solzhenitsyn as Prophet• The Ferocity of Marvin O’Connell• The Good Humor of Ralph McInerny• The Beautiful Mess that is Margaret Atwood; Conclusion: Confusions and Hope