Ian Anderson’s new album, Homo Erraticus, is out today, according to his website. According to iTunes, it comes out tomorrow. Today, tomorrow, whenever it is, this is a must have album. I have had a chance to listen to it a couple of times over the past few days, and I am thoroughly impressed. Ian Anderson proves, yet again, that he is a master of modern cultural critique. He is not just some old guy playing music. He is clearly aware of the world of today, and he does a masterful job of commenting on it in a humorous way.
I wish I could give you a full review of the album right now, but professors have this strange policy of wanting papers turned in on time. Weird, right? Briefly, the album covers basically all of British history, from Roman times, through today, and predictions for the future. Ian Anderson and company (which is essentially Jethro Tull, just not called that because of the absence of Martin Barre) wonderfully meld together history with cultural critique. I particularly enjoyed the backhanded reference to his son-in-law, who plays the lead role in the hit AMC TV show, Walking Dead.
The line up for the band is the same as it was on Thick as a Brick 2: Ian Anderson (vocals, flute, acoustic guitar), David Goodier (bass), John O’Hara (keyboards and accordion), Florian Opahle (guitar), Scott Hammond (drums), and Ryan O’Donnell (backing vocals). I noticed that they lowered the key of the music, so Ian Anderson sounds a lot better on this album than he did on TAAB2. O’Donnell also provides excellent backing vocals, sometimes singing lead. The instrumentation is amazing, as you would expect from anything produced by Ian Anderson. I am even more astounded by Florian Opahle’s guitar playing. As my friend and fellow progarchist, Connor Mullin, pointed out to me, his style of playing is more akin to King Crimson than it is to Martin Barre. This is not all that surprising considering Opahle toured with Greg Lake before joining Ian Anderson. His playing is simply fantastic.
In the end, Homo Erraticus should certainly be added to any prog rock collection. Ian Anderson has proved that you are never too old to rock and roll.
Everyone’s favorite artists from Norway have released an eighth studio album, two years in the making. And, not shockingly, it’s brilliant, stunning, and ingenious. If NIGHT is the Poetic Edda of modern progressive rock, DEMON is the Prose Edda.
Our own progarchist editor, Craig Breaden, has already offered his always excellent thoughts on the album, but I can’t let a Gazpacho release go by without also discussing it. So, please consider this review a supplement to Craig’s, certainly not a replacement.
As with every Gazpacho release, on DEMON, Jan-Henrik Ohme’s vocals are immaculate, and Thomas Andersen’s and Ohme’s lyrics reach toward the highest of the high, the most beautiful of the most beautiful.
As with all of seven of their previous albums, on DEMON, the notes linger in a Mark Hollis fashion, melodies emerge through punctuated walls of sound, Ohme’s vocals soar in an introspective aural empire, every instrument is played with loving perfection and always contributes as a sonic res publica. One can find guitar, base, drums, and keyboards here. But, strings, accordions, umpa brass, and Eastern European folks instruments abound as well. Old phonographs spurt statically operatic voices, dinner party crowds murmur, wind howls, and the natural elements create a wash of color in the background, all adding to a perfectly late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century haunting. Though frightening, DEMON’s story reflects an eerie Ray Bradbury horror rather than an H.P. Lovecraftian terrifying one.
It would be hard to find a band in 2014 more suited to long epics than Gazpacho. Really, the band’s only serious rival would be Ayreon. Here, I exclude bands such as Big Big Train, The Tangent, and Glass Hammer, as they rather happily create both concept albums and non-concept albums. Ever since NIGHT, though, Gazpacho has created concept after concept: NIGHT (a dream); TICK TOCK (a journey and escape): MISSA ANTROPOS (a pagan Mass); and MARCH OF GHOSTS (a series of short stories). The last especially offers a thematic prologue to DEMON.
While Ayreon reflects a deep knowledge and a loving embrace of science fiction and is close to infinity in its longing expansiveness, Gazpacho creates a fantastic and fabulist aura of quiet darkness and asks us to reflect on ourselves and our ancestors (our ghosts).
In a previous post here at progarchy, I noted that Gazpacho produces what might be called Eddic prog. DEMON only confirms that. Edda is a word that has no definite origins. It’s seemingly neither of Germanic or Latin origin, yet it appears as a vital word in Medieval Scandinavia. In our modern times, we attach it to the work of Snorri Snurlson. Not quite a Saga (also a perfected art form in Scandinavia), an Edda seems, by best definition, to be an “utterance of the soul.” Really, nothing could better describe the lyrics, the vocals, and the music of Gazpacho.
While I have no intimate knowledge of the band (though J-H Ohme is quite gracious on Facebook in answering my pesky questions and putting up with my innumerable tags of him), I suspect that DEMON is meant to be a second or third chapter in a long line of stories dealing with the supernatural. It began either with MISSA ANTROPOS (the calling of the Muses into this world) or with MARCH OF GHOSTS. The latter, though, seems more of a follow-up rather than a beginning. MISSA ANTROPOS certainly has the makings of a prologue or opening chapter to a long novel. If I could offer Gazpacho one piece of advice, it would be this: make the next album about Scandinavia. Images of Sigurd (baptized St. Michael after Christian evangelists appeared), the gods and heroes of the Seeress’s prophecy of Ragnorak, and the modern works of Sigrid Unset would all serve to continue this story so imaginatively begun by Gazpacho.. Imagine the use of traditional Scandinavia folk music (which bled readily from the pagan into the Christian/Lutheran), melodies, and instruments; and the imagery of Nordic prowess, AllThings, rune stones, and the Stave churches. My wannabe Viking heart swells just thinking about the possibilities.
Many reviewers have compared Gazpacho’s music to Radiohead or Sigur Ros, but I don’t hear that. If anything, Gazpacho offers a much more energetic vision first expressed by Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene in 1988’s SPIRIT OF EDEN and 1991’s LAUGHING STOCK. Yet, these comparisons are inadequate. Gazpacho, as with all great bands and artists, is at once backward looking, inward looking, and forward looking. Rarely, however, do artists display the kind of confidence that this band so joyously does. Gazpacho is its own band and never a mimicry of another band. They may very well build on the music of Hollis and Friese-Greene, but they have taken it in directions that Talk Talk never could or would.
No, Gazpacho is its own. Its own beauty, its own excellence, and its own genius. Long may they pursue goodness, truth, and beauty, even while examining the horrors of the macabre.
Mike Kershaw released the artwork for his forthcoming album, ICE AGE, today. It looks incredible.
To pre-order, go to Kershaw’s band camp page: http://mikekershaw.bandcamp.com
Master of all things Chronometric and Progometric, Robin Armstrong, has just announced that the new Cosmograf CD, CAPACITOR, will be available for pre-order tomorrow, Friday, April 11.
Progarchy’s advice: pre-order early and often.
Pre-order will be available through the Cosmograf website: http://www.cosmograf.com
To see the album trailer, watch below.
A review of “The Underfall Yard” from The Underfall Yard by Big Big Train (English Electric, 2009). Song and words by Greg Spawton. Additionally: David Longdon, vocals and vocal arrangements; Dave Gregory, guitars; Nick D’Virgilio, drums; Andy Poole, bass and keyboards; and [see image on right for a full list]
As much I love albums, I’m always looking for that perfect song. The song that longs to linger in our souls after we’ve heard its last notes. The song that cries to the heavens in triumph, praise, and rage. The song that hovers over that second away from eternity, rooted in the human condition, but reaching for timelessness.
In my first two pieces of this series, I looked at Rush’s “Natural Science” (1980) and The Tangent’s “Where Are They Now” (2009)? In this article, I turn to none other than a well-recognized masterpiece, a (perhaps, THE) cornerstone of third-wave prog, “The Underfall Yard” (2009) by Big Big Train. It originally appeared at the final track of Big Big Train’s 2009 album of the same name, the first to feature the vocals of the incomparable David Longdon.
Six seconds short of twenty-three minutes in length, “The Underfall Yard” is epic in every sense of the meaning of the word. I once gave it to a non-prog friend of mine as an introduction to the genre. He liked it (really, who couldn’t?), but he also joked, “Brad, when I started the song, I didn’t realize I’d have to miss dinner to finish it.”
The lyrics of the song reveal its scope best:
Using available light
He could still see far skies,
Beyond, above, and yet below the far skies rests (not contentedly) deep time. Indeed, given the song, one must imagine deep time as equal parts restless but also confident in its restlessness, sure of itself even in its transitions.
Always a superb lyricist, Spawton reveals his most intimate and poetic sense in this song overall. The words are at once hopeful and melancholic, the piece as a whole trapped in a slowly shifting twilight. The loss is of England’s entrepreneurial and industrial moments of the interwar era, the parents Edwardian, but the children Georgian.
As one stands with Spawton, watching this scene fade in golden and royal hues, he might just as readily be standing with King Alfred hopeful against heathen men as hairy as sin; with Harold of Hastings, tilting against a bastard’s armies; or with Winston Churchill, toiling and sweating against those would rend idyllic places such Coventry with insidious and inhumane progress.
Spawton’s words endlessly capture that which is always true but never quite obvious to all at all times.
The opening moments of the song move from an earnest guitar into a driving and equally earnest interplay of bass and drums, Gregory, D’Virgilio, Poole, and Spawton weaving something both tribal and civilized. More guitars appear, jutting and jetting. Strings emerge as if from the land itself. At 1:45, David Longdon’s voice enters into the art itself with the necessary pitch, the perfect lilt and quaver, and a resonant meaning. If Spawton is coming from sacred soil, Longdon is coming from the heavens, thus allowing the horizon and sky to meet in an infinite moment.
Almost uniquely among singers, Longdon possesses both assuredness and humility in all of his vocal arrangements, but none more so than in this song. While his voice is the voice of a man, it also is the voice of a chorus of men, a plea for generations.
Chasing a dream of the west
Made with iron and stone
Man, in Spawton’s vision, if armed with genius and integrity, reshapes the land, not in man’s image, but in the sacramental, Adamic way had things in Eden not soured.
These are old hills that stand in the way
breaking the line.
It came out of the storm,
out of the sea
to the permanent way
Using just available light,
he could still see far.
Even in his broken state, some men–seers, prophets, bards, skalds, poets and prog rockers–can see beyond the immediate, toward that which is far and that which is deep. Of all creatures, they alone can imagine the heights and the depths of existence.
In Spawton’s vision, England becomes not just another place on this earth, but a place sacred, sacred because man has recreated nature, not through domination, but through creative understanding, the soul and the intellect of each in harmony, not tension.
One is reminded of Spawton’s counterpart in the world of poetry, T.S. Eliot.
A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.
–T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding
Even the timeless moment, though, can not be seen or understood forever. Timeless moments—the light falling on a secluded chapel—lasts only as long as man knows to look for it. As with all things of beauty, truth, and goodness, it is fleeing, at least through our abilities to perceive, incorporate, and understand.
Roofless engine houses
distant hills like bookends
frame electrical storms
moving out to sea
away from England.
Spawton’s words and Longdon’s voice combine to make the above lyrics not only the most moving parts of the song, but combine to make one of the most moving parts of any song in the rock era.
I could never even count how many times I’ve listened to this song over the last five years. Every time, my stomach drops and my heart and soul swell when I hear this. Every single time.
And, yet, despite the loss of the thing itself, the moment in all of the revelation of its glory, Spawton knows—with the greatest thinkers of the western tradition—that memory can comfort us. Perhaps memory alone.
Parting the land
with the mark of man,
the permanent way,
Using just available light,
he could still see far.
The imprint is true. It always exists. We, however, must choose to remember. When we do, the world becomes just a little brighter. Using just available light.
And, thus, Big Big Train reveals its ultimate contribution to the world of art. Somethings are worth remembering, whatever the cost, and memory itself is a precious and delicate thing beyond any cost.
Far skies, deep time.
Thank you, Kscope. Not to be too dramatic (or soap operaish), but I’m really pleased to receive a response. Especially since I didn’t expect one.
P.S. I removed the original post.
Dan Flynn explains “The Rise, Fall, and Strange Rebirth of the Music Video“:
The paradox of music videos is that they grew worse as their budgets grew better. Initially, too-literal visual interpretations of lyrics, cheap, clichéd images such as smashing glass, and singers earnestly acting as actors signaled disaster. Later, when the productions resembled, in budget at least, a typical James Cameron film, the pretentiousness clashed with the inherently kitsch format. Think “November Rain.” Aspiring to make an epic music video misses the point.
The jarring new Pixies clip for “Snakes” depicts paper-mache piñata people escaping encroaching predators. It is as off-kilter as the band that doesn’t once appear in it. The disturbing mini-movie makes more sense after a few viewings, which makes sense given that, unlike real movies, music videos aim for hundreds of repeat screenings. The surprise ending, positively Shyamalanian if not Hitchcockian, makes clues, meaningless upon first glance, exude meaning after repeat YouTube visits.
YouTube appears as a worthy successor to MTV. Surely its manner of monetizing—brief ads as payment for watching a clip—works better than the expectation that an inherently impatient demographic, clicker in hand, will waste two-minutes waiting for the songs to return. It’s also less one-size-fits-all MTV, and more user-friendly ’50s jukebox, in its all-request approach. Alas, no Martha Quinn or Triple J walks you through the process, and, like so much on the web, you must go knowingly in search of cool—cool isn’t going to come find you.
Still, making one of the best music videos ever after musicians have largely stopped making, and fans have stopped watching, music videos evokes the idea of a great radio serial broadcast in the 1980s or an eighteenth-century army going into battle with bows at the ready.