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Talk Talk/Mark Hollis


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#1 opus

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Posted 01 January 2006 - 03:17 PM

Is anyone here a fan of Talk Talk and/or Mark Hollis? I've been listening to Hollis' solo album today, and am reminded of just what a cryptic and subtle work it is.

Hollis was the frontman of Talk Talk, who achieved some fame in the early 80s with their new wave (though, in truth, those early songs were far more intelligent and soulful than new wave tends to be). Then, after getting a taste of popularity, they completely abandoned their new wave sound, opting for something quite a bit more avant-garde, mixing jazz, orchestral arrangements, pastoral ambient washes, and of course, Hollis' cryptic lyrics and soulful voice. Along with Bark Psychosis, they were one of the first "post-rock" bands (in fact, the term was created to describe their music).

Hollis' album is like Talk Talk's sound taken to the extreme. It's incredibly muted and sparse, usually nothing more than Hollis' voice - which is barely audible most of the time - and dusty acoustic guitar, with slight piano and horn accompaniment. This quote from Hollis sums it up quite nicely: "Before you play two notes learn how to play one note - and don't play one note unless you've got a reason to play it."

It could be described as "folk", but it's much darker and starker than one typically thinks of folk music as being, with meandering song structures and lyrics that barely make logical sense. Yet the sound of them when wrapped up in Hollis' voice evokes such a strong mood. Excellent music for a lazy Sunday afternoon.



#2 Andy Whitman

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Posted 01 January 2006 - 05:24 PM

QUOTE(opus @ Jan 1 2006, 03:17 PM) View Post

Is anyone here a fan of Talk Talk and/or Mark Hollis? I've been listening to Hollis' solo album today, and am reminded of just what a cryptic and subtle work it is.

Hollis was the frontman of Talk Talk, who achieved some fame in the early 80s with their new wave (though, in truth, those early songs were far more intelligent and soulful than new wave tends to be). Then, after getting a taste of popularity, they completely abandoned their new wave sound, opting for something quite a bit more avant-garde, mixing jazz, orchestral arrangements, pastoral ambient washes, and of course, Hollis' cryptic lyrics and soulful voice. Along with Bark Psychosis, they were one of the first "post-rock" bands (in fact, the term was created to describe their music).

Hollis' album is like Talk Talk's sound taken to the extreme. It's incredibly muted and sparse, usually nothing more than Hollis' voice - which is barely audible most of the time - and dusty acoustic guitar, with slight piano and horn accompaniment. This quote from Hollis sums it up quite nicely: "Before you play two notes learn how to play one note - and don't play one note unless you've got a reason to play it."

It could be described as "folk", but it's much darker and starker than one typically thinks of folk music as being, with meandering song structures and lyrics that barely make logical sense. Yet the sound of them when wrapped up in Hollis' voice evokes such a strong mood. Excellent music for a lazy Sunday afternoon.


Yes indeed. I'm particularly a fan of the last two Talk Talk albums Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. These are brilliant albums both musically and lyrically, and so far removed from the early bad-haircut synth band albums of the early '80s as to be almost unrecognizable.

But Mark Hollis created a distinctive sound on these albums that still thrills me -- a jarring ambient hush that lulls you and soothes you and then knocks you upside the head with staccato electric guitar bursts and piercing harmonica and words of yearning spirituality. It's beautiful noise, and some of the most creative music to come out of the late '80s and early '90s. I would think that Sufjan Stevens or Sigur Ros fans would love this. It's too bad that the band never achieved the acclaim they deserved, and are best known for the inferior New Wave stuff of the early '80s.


#3 TheTrout

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Posted 01 January 2006 - 07:41 PM

I bought almost everything Hollis ever did last year, with the exception of Talk Talk's debut record which I really have no interest in hearing.

The last 3 Talk Talk records are all great, and they have some good b-sides too. Hollis' solo album is also nice.

#4 thom_jurek (unregistered)

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 02:31 PM

QUOTE(TheTrout @ Jan 1 2006, 07:41 PM) View Post

I bought almost everything Hollis ever did last year, with the exception of Talk Talk's debut record which I really have no interest in hearing.

The last 3 Talk Talk records are all great, and they have some good b-sides too. Hollis' solo album is also nice.



While I dig Colour of Spring, Spirit of Eden, and Laughingstock, the only albums they did with Tim-Friese Greene (I think), the earlier recordings don't get it for me. I've tried a couple of times, and perhaps someonhe here can tell me what I am missing, what I am supposed to be listening for that I'm not hearing. I love Hollis's solo record--though his ambient record as ???? for an art exhibition under a different name that escapes me now wasn't terribly compelling. Conversely, the other two cats--Lee Harris and Paul Webb--recorded an EP and a pair of albums under the name Orang. they were interesting, and really fine in spots, but didn't ultimately hold my interest for very long as full lengths-- though I still have them. I think they are called "Herd of Insitnct" and Fields and Waves. The EP, if I'm not mistaken, was called "Spoor."

#5 opus

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 03:04 PM

QUOTE(thom_jurek @ Jan 23 2006, 01:31 PM) View Post
While I dig Colour of Spring, Spirit of Eden, and Laughingstock, the only albums they did with Tim-Friese Greene (I think), the earlier recordings don't get it for me. I've tried a couple of times, and perhaps someonhe here can tell me what I am missing, what I am supposed to be listening for that I'm not hearing. I love Hollis's solo record--though his ambient record as ???? for an art exhibition under a different name that escapes me now wasn't terribly compelling. Conversely, the other two cats--Lee Harris and Paul Webb--recorded an EP and a pair of albums under the name Orang. they were interesting, and really fine in spots, but didn't ultimately hold my interest for very long as full lengths-- though I still have them. I think they are called "Herd of Insitnct" and Fields and Waves. The EP, if I'm not mistaken, was called "Spoor."

I've got O'Rang's Fields and Waves, and you're right. There are definite moments of brilliance throughout the album, but it just doesn't work as a whole as well as it should. But the good stuff on there is fantastic.

#6 TheTrout

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 03:54 PM

QUOTE

While I dig Colour of Spring, Spirit of Eden, and Laughingstock, the only albums they did with Tim-Friese Greene (I think), the earlier recordings don't get it for me. I've tried a couple of times, and perhaps someonhe here can tell me what I am missing, what I am supposed to be listening for that I'm not hearing.


I have It's My Life and I don't care for that one much at all - I'd give that 25stars.gif and Colour of Spring 5/5, so in my opinion they made a massive leap forward between those two consecutive albums. I think Tim Friese-Greene was actually there for It's My Life but it's just not an interesting record. One major difference is that they dropped synthesisers, which allowed them to be much more innovative with sounds. Colour of Spring is just the perfect mid-80s pop record - it has all the brash hooks of the 80s, but it's way less dated and most of the songs make interesting left turns somewhere.

#7 stu

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 12:33 PM

Wow.

For some reason, despite being a very big fan of Spirit of Eden, I never got round to listening to Laughing Stock. I stuck it on spotify earlier today, and am still listening to it hours later. 'New Grass' is completely entrancing, and, I have to say, makes me feel like Radiohead's many achievements should be put in context more regularly, because this track anticipates some of the best moments on Kid A and In Ranbows, and it's better than anything on King of Limbs, I reckon.

#8 Darren H

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 01:30 PM

Thanks for the recommendation, Stu. I just listened to Laughing Stock on Napster and was blown away by it. Can't believe that album was released in 1991.

#9 opus

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 01:52 PM

'New Grass' is completely entrancing, and, I have to say, makes me feel like Radiohead's many achievements should be put in context more regularly, because this track anticipates some of the best moments on Kid A and In Ranbows, and it's better than anything on King of Limbs, I reckon.

Indeed. There are entire genres that owe their existence to "New Grass".

#10 chillinrev

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 02:11 PM

I love the Colour of Spring and the Hollis solo album. Interesting that alot of the post-prog bands are naming them/him as an influence. Modern day Marillion with Hogarth included here. But also including other bands worth investigating like Gazpacho, Nosound, No-Man, Airbag etc. The record company did not want to release Colour of Spring but I bet they are glad they did now.

#11 opus

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 02:37 PM

A couple of other Talk Talk acolytes include Epic45 and Hood. It often seems like both bands have spent their entire career trying to write their very own "New Grass", and I mean that in a very good way (both bands are two of my faves).

#12 Holy Moly!

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 03:39 PM

be warned, i bought mark hollis' solo album from amazon and the mp3s sound HORRIBLE!

#13 Hugues

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 05:25 PM

To me, the "Such a Shame" hit remains a masterpiece of the eighties. Be aware that the single isn't the same version as the album one. Now it would need a remastering to CD. The best sounding version is on the net, with this curious video of Mark Hollis laughing all the time.

#14 TheTrout

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 06:00 PM

'Ascension Day' from Laughing Stock is such a great track - such heavy, intense guitars. Those last 3 Talk Talk albums are still one of the best runs ever in my opinion.

#15 old wave

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 06:16 PM

Remember the Backstreet Boys/N*Sync clone 98 Degrees, whose frontman, Nick Lachey, is also well-known for having married Jessica Simpson? Well, imagine that 98 Degrees hadn't broken up. Imagine that after 98 Degrees and Rising, the band had decided to make something slightly more mature, recording a sumptuous chamber-pop/neoclassical record called Revel with the same dance pop hooks as before. Imagine that this record broke through both in the States and abroad, making it their largest commercial and critical success yet.

Imagine that after a triumphant worldwide tour, their record label gave them a blank check and no timeline on which to record their third album. Imagine that the band disappeared entirely for 14 months, with no word about the record's progress, direction, or sound; instead, the band very publicly attempting to extract themselves from their record contract, saying that they were afraid that after they finished the album they were recording, their record label wouldn't give them a budget for their next one. Imagine that the record company countersued, declaring the record commercially unviable, while rumors escaped about 16 hour recording sessions held in complete darkness, church choirs, dobras and and harmoniums. Imagine that this record, The Gate of Dawn, was released to mixed reviews and disappointing sales, a quiet, claustrophobic ambient/post-rock record assembled in the studio from hours and hours of recording sessions, that the rest of the band members left, leaving Nick Lachey and one of 98 Degrees' long-time backing musicians.

Imagine that the band refused to tour in support of this record, and less than a year later, their old record label released a greatest hits record, with songs from 98 Degrees and Rising and their debut album 98 Degrees comprising most of the tracks, along with a couple songs off of Revel, and that this record sold 3 times the number of copies as The Gate of Dawn, and that the lead single from 98 Degrees and Rising, re-released on this compilation, was their biggest single yet, competing for plays with N*Sync and the Backstreet Boys in clubs and on the radio. Imagine that the band refused to either go back to this sound or change their name, going back into the studio with dozens of studio musicians to record their follow up to The Gate of Dawn, with even more demanding studio sessions facilitated by candles and incense, with Nick Lachey gradually becoming more and more reclusive. Imagine that this final album was released to generally apathetic reviews, the same year that their old record label released a remix compliation of stuff from their first 3 albums, again outselling their current work. Imagine that as 98 Degrees was breaking up, Nick Lachey sued to have the remix compliation removed from the shelves and the rest of the copies destroyed. Imagine that Nick released an album called Nick Lachey that was an even more minimal version of the final 98 Degrees album, then disappeared from the music landscape almost entirely.



This is the career of Talk Talk, except that nobody had invented the word "post-rock" yet, and that their later work was rediscovered almost a decade later and given the critical acclaim it enjoys today.

It's totally jaw-dropping. It's like the Jonas Brothers turning themselves into Radiohead, and then breaking up after Amnesiac.

Edited by old wave, 05 April 2011 - 06:18 PM.


#16 Darren H

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 07:33 PM

Okay, I don't understand how I didn't discover these albums 20 years ago. I want to climb inside Spirit of Eden and live there.

#17 Darren H

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 08:47 PM

Half a bottle of Shiraz and a pair of headphones later, I feel comfortable calling Laughing Stock my favorite musical discovery of the last 12 months.

#18 Andy Whitman

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 08:48 PM

Here's an article from 2005 I wrote in Paste about those two magical Talk Talk albums.

-------------------------------------


"Before you play two notes learn how to play one note – and don't play one note unless you've got a reason to play it." – Mark Hollis, 1998

This is the tale of a pop band who threw it all away.

In early 1986, Talk Talk released The Colour of Spring, their best selling album to date. Taking their cues from the Duran Duran school of perfectly sculpted hair and lush, synth-driven pop hooks, the band had surfed the New Wave and had coasted ashore with a handful of hit singles, appearances on the BBC’s Top of the Pops, and a world tour. The future seemed limitless. What happened next is the stuff of weeping and gnashing of teeth – tears of joy for the handful of music fans who waited almost three years to discover a difficult, unconventional, but gorgeous collection of austere anti-pop songs; gnashing of teeth for the band managers and record label moguls who had literally banked on a repetition of the same successful formula. Talk Talk saw the fame and fortune that could be theirs if they just steered down the middle of the road, and they swerved into the ditch. Never has a band so purposefully self-destructed, and never has a band emerged with such willfully noncommercial glory.

The turbulent history of the recording sessions that led to 1988’s Spirit of Eden is fairly well chronicled. Seventeen long months went by in the studio. Schedules and budgets were shot to hell. The band scrapped finished songs and started again, tinkered endlessly with arrangements, and ultimately refused to release advance tracks to an increasingly nervous EMI Records. When the completed album arrived, the managers and label moguls must have been nearly apoplectic. There was no hit single here. There was scarcely a pop hook here, in fact, and the songs crept by at an almost painfully glacial pace, unfolding leisurely and stretching out, in some case, to over nine minutes. The opening track, “The Rainbow,” was all gauzy, ethereal ambience and jazzy muted trumpet until staccato bursts of electric guitar crashed the hushed chillfest. Three minutes in, a distorted harmonica joined the schizophrenic melee, followed by church organ, followed by what sounded like submarine sonar equipment. “The world’s turned upside down,” lead singer/songwriter Mark Hollis announced in the song’s opening line, five long minutes into the proceedings. No kidding. What listeners were hearing was the sound of a band imploding its own future.

They left some magnificent ruins. I heard Spirit of Eden when it was released and was astonished. Not only did it not sound like Talk Talk, it sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. The familiar synth-driven hooks had given way to open-ended soundscapes; ethereal, fragile, minimalistic, but infinitely expressive and evocative. Hollis and his bandmates used open space and silence in breathtaking ways, the soothing ambience perfectly framing the cathartic bursts of guitar and vocals. Talk Talk had learned when to shut up, and had created a masterpiece in the process.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see Spirit of Eden as the first post-rock album. The telltale marks of the genre – the textured guitars, the glacial tempos, the emphasis on dynamics, electronica, ambience, and minimalism – were all in place, and they paved the way for bands such as Sigur Ros, Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and latter period Radiohead. It is a formula that has been repeated frequently during the past eighteen years.

What has never been repeated is the sense of gut-wrenching spiritual turmoil that Mark Hollis was able to capture in his songwriting. Hollis’s lyrics are too elliptical and cryptic for easy interpretation, but there are telltale signs – allusions to heroin addiction, a life and death struggle, repentance, surrender. Hollis has never explained those references, but they surely point to one of the least formulaic and stereotypical redemption tales ever recorded. A new way of life seemed to call for a new kind of music, and Hollis invented his own musical vocabulary to express the metamorphosis.

In any event, the band would never be the same. Laughing Stock followed three years later, even more austere, atmospheric, and impenetrable. Hollis released his impossibly stark solo debut in 1998. Since then, he has engaged in the ultimate musical minimalism – total silence.

These days I never play the early Talk Talk albums, but I pull out my worn vinyl copy of Spirit of Eden fairly regularly. It still sounds fresh and plaintive and achingly gorgeous, and although many bands have tried to recapture the sound, no one has ever done it better. It starts with a whispered announcement, barely audible, of a new way of life, and it ends with a whispered plea for divine love to restrain the unconfined horrors of too much fun and freedom. In between it merely quietly soars. Paul Simon got it right all those years ago, and it’s still true: the words of the prophets are whispered in the sounds of silence. For Mark Hollis, a prophet of silence, the truth was never spoken more eloquently than on Spirit of Eden.

Best Albums

Spirit of Eden (1988)
The Holy Grail of post-rock albums. Mark Hollis’s open-ended tales of sin and redemption are framed by ethereal passages of melancholic beauty.

Laughing Stock (1991)
More stark and less melodic than Spirit of Eden, but equally adventurous, and equally breathtaking in its use of open spaces and ambient sound sculptures.

#19 Darren H

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 08:54 PM

I can't get over the fact that a "pop" group would open an album with a song like "Myrrhmam."

#20 stu

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 03:54 AM

Half a bottle of Shiraz and a pair of headphones later, I feel comfortable calling Laughing Stock my favorite musical discovery of the last 12 months.


Excellent! If we were in the same room I'd raise my hand for a high five...