Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Talk Talk Series, #15: Mark Hollis- S/T (1998) MP3 & FLAC

"Soar the bridges that I burnt before, one song among us all."

"Over the last couple of hours, it was a very loose, flexible affair [....] The whole point with the last albums was that, you know, it isn't this kind of band-thing where it's all like this tight thing that you're forced into. It was much looser; we could come together and play, but the thing with me and Tim [Friese-Greene], we had worked together over a long period and then we got to a point where we thought that there was really nowhere for us to go in terms of how we work and how we write." This is Mark Hollis' explanation for Talk Talk's demise shortly after the completion of their brilliant swan-song, Laughing Stock. Actually, there were plans for a sixth Talk Talk album, Mountains of the Moon, as their contract with Verve / Polydor required them to deliver a second album (the aforementioned Laughing Stock being the first) though there was no time-frame specified for doing so. It's unclear why Mountains of the Moon didn't materialize given the band had gone so far as to name the new project, but what is clear was Hollis' uncompromising refusal to repeat himself, which was the very thing that had driven Talk Talk's dramatic evolution over the course of its existence. Following the dissolution of the band, Hollis spent the better part of seven years expanding his musical knowledge by learning to read and write music notation and using these new skills to compose classical-style minimalist pieces for piano and woodwinds (one of which, "Piano," can be found on A V 1). This allowed him to explore the sonic minimalism that characterized the last two Talk Talk albums in ways even further afield of the pop tradition. So while it's tempting to think of Hollis' eponymous 1998 solo debut as the long delayed appearance of that aborted final Talk Talk album, in actuality, it represents a significant change in approach from the Laughing Stock sessions. As Hollis has revealed, "It was not intended to be different, but then it is totally obvious to me that it would be. Because given the things I wanted to do on this album, I didn't imagine it would have any relationship at all with modern music." For the recording of Mark Hollis, one key element of continuity with the final Talk Talk album was the continued presence of Phill Brown, who, this time out, served as sound engineer. Nevertheless, as Brown recalls, the approach to recording was quite different than what had been done for previous albums: "Unlike Spirit of Eden  or Laughing Stock, there were demos of almost all the songs; it was easy to know where we were heading and what was required. The previous albums had been recorded by chance, accident, and hours of trying every possible overdub idea [....] However on Mark's project, everything was scored and written down." While starting from a much more structured place than earlier recording sessions, Mark Hollis was still built, to a significant degree, on improvisation, but this time, a more Jazz-influenced approach was used for getting these performances on tape. Hollis: "The idea was to have carefully worked out structures, within which the musicians would have a lot of freedom. I'd just say to them, 'okay we're here, we want to get there- now let's play.'" Another departure from previous sessions was Hollis' insistence on exclusively employing both acoustic instrumentation and acoustic recording techniques, which helped lend Mark Hollis it's haunting sense of stillness: "I just love the sound of [acoustic] instruments hid that low down and the physical sounds that surround the instrument, whether it's creaking or whether it's the way air goes through or whatever. That is almost as important as the note. So just purely on a sound aspect, the reality of what an acoustic instrument is, is one reason for why the album is so quiet." In terms of the music itself, though certainly a sonic departure in some ways, it is a worthy follow-up to Talk Talk's inimitable mature work. On the opening track, "The Colour of Spring," with a title suggesting continuity with the past but a sound indicating anything but, Hollis goes it alone on piano and vocals, delivering a stark yet intensely gorgeous performance that uses the silences punctuating his minimalist piano melody to create a sense of space around his yearning vocals, which seem intent on pushing the impressionistic lyrics beyond their articulative limits. Alternatively, "The Gift" reveals a fuller arrangement with a bopping Jazz-influenced rhythm section beautifully running counterpoint to Hollis' wistful, very nearly insensible, though powerfully expressive vocals. Another minimalist gem is "Westward Bound," sounding more like a folk song, though without any sense of formal structure, it features some simple but lovely acoustic guitar parts and Hollis' voice barely needing to rise above a whisper to produce its devastating emotional impact. Mark Hollis is a work that manages to feel simultaneously profound and irretrievably distant, which means that one inevitable aspect of listening to it is to experience ambivalence, something Hollis would see as an opportunity to dig deeper: "It's like in a relationship. The more you focus on the music, the more you will hear from the music. The more that you give in terms of listening to what's happening on the album, the more things will reveal themselves within the album."

Mark Hollis 
(Polydor ~ 1998)

1. The Colour of Spring  (3:51)
2. Watershed  (5:43)
3. Inside Looking Out  (6:19)
4. The Gift  (4:21)
5. A Life (1895-1915)  (8:08)
6. Westward Bound  (4:16)
7. The Daily Planet  (7:18)
8. A New Jerusalem  (6:48)

-This Post Concludes the Talk Talk Series-


  1. Well, thank you so much for this series (and for all your posts in this blog).

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this special music series. Love this blog!!!!

  3. Adrián López~Cruces, my pleasure. I enjoyed this series immensely!

  4. Anon., I'm a little sad to see this series end, but I ran out of things to post. Still, a 15-post series for a band that only released 5 studio albums isn't bad :)

  5. carlos, I agree, a gorgeous album indeed

  6. C'est l'apothéose d'une série sur un GRAND groupe !
    un GRAND merci voixautre !

  7. douxεε, merci my good friend. I am very proud of this series; it was very enjoyable


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