Hello everyone, welcome to the Spirit of Cecilia Progcast #2. Tad Wert and I host, and we’re thrilled to feature music by The Flower Kings, IZZ, Lifesigns, Tin Spirits, Kevin McCormick, The Tangent, Nosound, NAO, and Airbag. Enjoy!
The trajectory (that is, the insanity) went something like this.
I bought the Gazpacho cd, Fireworking at St. Croix, and I was so taken with it, I ordered the blu-ray of the same title, which also includes a Soyuz (previous album) concert, three interviews, and some extras. This wasn’t enough, however. I was so taken with the blu-ray that I ordered the deluxe edition earbook which includes the CD (now expanded to two discs), the DVD, the blu-ray, all in a specially-packaged hardback book.
Ok, let me be totally honest. To be sure, the trajectory didn’t go just “something like this,” it went exactly like this. Now, I proudly own three versions of the same release. My home office just reeks of Fireworking at St. Croix!
My Gazpacho intensity actually goes back to 2007 when the band released one of the most epic of all third-wave prog releases, Night. I have no idea how many times I’ve listened to Night. It numbers well into the 100s, ranking up there with listens of Talk Talk, Big Big Train, and Rush. Since 2007, I have happily bought and collected every single Gazpacho album, studio as well as live, past, present, and, it seems, future.
I’ve listened to each album multiple times—too many to be counted, really—and I’ve somehow absorbed this Norwegian art-rock band into my very self. They actually refer to themselves as an anti-band, but, nonetheless, a band they are.
As it turns out—as I learned from the interviews on Fireworking at St. Croix—the band sees all of its release since Night as a single whole, each a part of a connected universe, a “Gazpacho-verse.” Combining Christian, pagan, and Darwinian imaginary and themes, the band seems to revel in a sort of mystic Gnosticism (lyrically speaking) and delightfully complex musical structures.
Fireworker (the studio album) and its live release, Fireworking at St. Croix, follow the story of the Fireworker, a sort of demon that both animates and dominates man. He, the Fireworker, is a sort of parasite as well as a lifeforce, guiding as well as riding evolution.
As noted above, the band’s lyrics tend to be rather Gnostic (but in a fun way). They’re also always mythic and thoughtful.
I’ve had Fireworking at St. Croix (in one form or another) since its release in the U.S., and I’ve been listening and watching it almost non-stop. There is a lot of great music out there, but this is really some of the best of the best.
Now, if I can only get to Europe and watch the band live. . .
To order the deluxe version, go to Burningshed.com.
That which passes, passes like clouds.— aphorism/song title/album title, Robert Fripp
This is music from a broken heart.
Abruptly faced with his estranged father’s terminal illness, Nosound maestro Giancarlo Erra poured his reactions into brooding electronic improvisations, recorded (for the most part) in real time in the studio. The result is his second solo album, Departure Tapes. Shorn of the classical elements of 2019’s Ends, it’s both raw and eerily majestic — an extended sonic contemplation of mortal life’s limits and the human struggle to accept them.
The opening “Dawn Tape” lays out Erra’s improvisational process — not far removed from Robert Fripp’s Soundscapes or Floating Points’ recent Promises. A mournful lo-fi piano loop (complete with the noise of the recorder switching on) gently creaks into motion. As it repeats over the course of six minutes, Erra stirs in a static mid-range drone, a slow synth line and a recessed bass riff, randomly generated rhythmic chords and a yearning treble melody. The elements accumulate, grind against each other, gradually dissipate like clouds in a troubled sky, with the drone outlasting even the piano loop. But that’s just the architecture: what you hear is the beginning of a new day, its beauty evident yet obscured for Erra by Philip Larkin’s “unresting death, a whole day nearer now.”
Every track on Departure Tapes opens out from its simple beginnings to something rich and deep, no matter its actual length. The tender harp of the miniature “Previous Tape” provides a lush bed for its heartfelt, hornlike melody over an airy, insistent electronic groove. “169th Tape” is a portrait of collisions and avoidances, as orchestral clusters (treated with random, noisy decay) sweep across the soundfield, holding on against midrange chords and an irregular, descending bass line that threaten to overwhelm it. And “Unwound Tape” sounds like its title, a hypnotic, slow-motion crescendo that has the feel of something feared yet inescapable.
All this builds to the title track, sixteen minutes of heartfelt brilliance. Working off a long, wordless vocal loop, Erra explores his previous strategies, draping the haunting melody with chords and a bass line — then reboots for an extended, lyrical piano solo (featured at the start of the YouTube edit). Flowing from folk lyricism into free-form, dissonant splashes, Erra dances, halts, regains momentum to climb through thickening, pulsing string clouds. Which is when the vocal line returns, triumphantly soaring atop the static gloom. It’s a rhapsodic moment, evoking Mahler in its depiction of both the angst involved in confronting death and the catharsis of acceptance. Which beautifully sets up the closing “A Blues for My Father,” a yearning requiem of glacially shifting melodies and timbres, somber but nonetheless at peace.
It’s that sense of closure, of coming to terms with what awaits us all, that Erra powerfully, beautifully depicts with Departure Tapes. Working from his grief for his father, he’s given us a gift; whatever we believe awaits beyond this life, one day we will pass from this world, like the clouds he’s so vividly drawn on for these improvisational sketches. Coming to terms with that raw fact can enable us — as it would seem to have enabled Giancarlo Erra — to treasure what we have (as well as what we’ve had) all the more.
— Rick Krueger
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.
Top albums of 2018
Well, stunningly, it’s that time of year—the time we begin to assess the best of that which came throughout the year. At age 51, these years fly by, faster and faster. Time devours, but individuals innovate. 2018 has been a rather spectacular year, at least on a personal level. In very large part, the creative soundtrack behind the year’s events proved equally spectacular.
Here are my favorite albums of 2018.
10. Galahad, Seas of Change. Stu and company nail it with this album. At once deeply progressive musically and timely politically, Galahad strike the perfect balance of art and message on this wondrous 43-minute long album (and song!). The message never becomes oppressively preachy, itself being fully integrated with the music.
9. Bjorn Riis, Coming Home. This is the only EP to make it to my top 10 of 2018. Only 27 minutes long, Riis’s Coming Home offers more depth in music and thought than most albums can at 50 to 70 minutes. A perfectionist and a minimalist, Riis offers just enough to keep us eager for me. As with his work on Airbag, Riis provides a lush soundscape of tundra, doted here and there with evergreens.
8. Shineback, Dial. I don’t think it’s constitutionally possible for any of the Godfrey musicians to be uninteresting. Despite having moved from the U.K. to the Philadelphia, Simon Godfrey retains all of the romantic best of the motherland. Electronic flourishes, Thomas Dolby rhythms, pop melodies, progressive and extended passages, and Godfrey’s always anxious and surreal lyrics pull the listener in, from the opening minute to the closing minute—92 minutes later! A feast of creepiness and introspection. Every time I listen, I realize I’m only getting about 70% of what’s going on. This is music for headphones, to be sure.
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