June 9, 2012

Playlist Week of 6-09-12

Talk Talk

* Telemann: The Complete Tafelmusik (Freiburger Barockorchester) (d.1) (Harmonia Mundi 4CD)
* Revueltas: “The Night Of The Maya” (New Philharmonia Orchestra (Mata), et al.) (Catalyst CD)
* Messiaen: Des Canyons Aux Etoiles… (Orch. Phil. De Radio France/Chung) (DG 2CD)
* Duke Ellington & Johnny Hodges: Back To Back (Verve/Classic LP)
* Duke Ellington & Jonny Hodges: Side By Side (Verve/Classic LP)
* Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964 (Blue Note 2CD)
* Sun Ra: Showboat Lounge, Silver Spring, MD 3-18-77 (AUD 2CDR)
* Sun Ra: Smuckers, New York, NY 4-17-77 (AUD CDR)
* Herbie Hancock: Directstep (CBS/Sony CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Future Shock (Columbia/Legacy HDCD)
* People (Mary Halvorson & Kevin Shea): People (I And Ear LP)
* Mary Halvorson Quintet: Bending Bridges (Firehouse 12 CD)
* Willie Nelson: Heroes (Legacy/Sony HDCD)
* The Beatles: Beatles For Sale (2009 stereo) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour (2009 stereo) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Past Masters (d.2) (Apple/EMI CD)
* Grateful Dead: Grateful Dead [a/k/a Skull & Roses] (Warner Bros./Mobile Fidelity 2LP)
* David Crosby: If I Could Only Remember My Name… (Atlantic/Rhino LP)
* Deep Purple: Deep Purple (Tetragramaton LP)
* Black Sabbath: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Phil Collins: No Jacket Required (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* Phil Collins: But Seriously…(Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* The Style Council: Internationalists (Geffen LP)
* Talk Talk: The Colour Of Spring (EMI LP/DVD)
* Talk Talk: Spirit Of Eden (EMI LP/DVD)
* Guided By Voices: Class Clown Spots A UFO (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Guided By Voices: “Jon The Croc”/”Breathing” (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Guided By Voices: “Keep It In Motion” (GBV, Inc. 7”EP)
* Guided By Voices: “Class Clown Spots A UFO” (GBV, Inc. 7”EP)
* Wilco: Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch 2LP)
* High On Fire: Death Is This Communion (Relapse CD)†/‡
* A Perfect Circle: Mer De Noms (Virgin CD)†
* A Perfect Circle: Thirteenth Step (Virgin CD)†
* Porcupine Tree: The Incident (d.1) (Roadrunner CD/CDEP)
* Opeth: Still Life (Special Edition) (Peaceville CD/DVD)
* Storm Corrosion: Storm Corrosion (Roadrunner CD/BD) (†)
* Katatonia: Last Fair Deal Gone Down (10th Anniversary Edition) (Peaceville CD/CDEP)†
* Katatonia: Viva Emptiness (Peaceville CD)†/‡
* Katatonia: The Great Cold Distance (Peaceville 2LP)
* Katatonia: Night Is The New Day (Peaceville CD)†
* Anathema: We’re Here Because We’re Here (KScope CD/DVD)
* Anathema: Weather Systems (The End CD)(†/‡)
* Mastodon: Remission (Relapse 2LP)
* Mastodon: Leviathan (Relapse CD)†
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise 2-45RPM LP/CD)
* Agalloch: The Mantle (The End CD)†
* Agalloch: Ashes Against The Grain (The End CD)†



One of the things I love about Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt is that he is a rabid record-collector who constantly talks about his various musical obsessions. It is through his ravings about Camel that I discovered this overlooked British prog band—much to my great enjoyment. So during the run-up to Åkerfeldt’s collaboration with Steven Wilson, Storm Corrosion (which I wrote about a couple weeks ago), I was curious to see them cite such influences as Comus, Univers Zero, Van Der Graaf Generator and…Talk Talk. Huh? I could understand the obscure ‘70s psych/folk/prog stuff—but Talk Talk? I always thought of Talk Talk (if I thought of them at all) as just another blow-dried synth-pop band from the 1980s, like a third-rate Duran Duran—with good reason, of course. I was vaguely familiar with their hits, but didn’t really pay much attention. Hey, it’s not like I don’t have a taste for ‘80s synth-pop (as any careful examination of my playlists will amply demonstrate) but Talk Talk were completely off my radar. Intrigued, I knew I had to investigate.

As it turns out, Talk Talk did a rare and wonderful thing over the course of their brief career: they evolved. Their 1986 album, The Colour Of Spring, eschewed the “New Wave” stylings of their earlier albums, instead going for a more sophisticated orchestral pop sound and replacing (for the most part) the cheesy synthesizers with an expanded roster of live musicians. This provides a more organic feel to the music compared to most hit records from the era and The Colour Of Spring went on to become their biggest-selling album with “Life’s What You Make It” and “Living In Another World” cracking the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite its polished sheen, a bit of unexpected weirdness has crept into the arrangements, like the ramshackle kiddie choir on “Happiness Is Easy,” the spacey, two-chord mysticism of “April 5th” or the dissonant woodwinds and strings on the quietly haunting “Chameleon Day.” The single B-side, “It’s Getting Late In The Evening,” was even weirder: all expectant atmosphere punctuated by Mark Hollis’s introspective mumbling. It was a harbinger of what was to come.

Pleased with the sales of The Colour Of Spring, EMI gave the band carte blanche for their next album: with an unlimited budget and no firm release date, the band spent over year recording Spirit Of Eden. Rather than writing songs in advance, various combinations of instrumentalists were instructed to improvise for hours in the dark, oil lamps and incense burning to provide atmosphere. Snippets were then stitched together (utilizing primitive digital technology) to create two side-long suites of barely discrete “songs” which seamlessly flow together. Sounding nothing like what had come before, the album combined elements of rock, jazz, avant-garde classical and proto-ambient music into something unique in the world of mainstream pop music: a work of Art. It should come as no surprise that Spirit Of Eden received mostly scathing reviews upon its release in September 1988 and sold poorly. The band refused to tour behind it, stating the songs were impossible to perform live, thereby causing further tensions with the record label. Naturally, a string of lawsuits ensued with Talk Talk succeeding in voiding their contract with EMI. Their next (and final) album would be released on Polydor’s jazz imprint, Verve.

The cheekily titled Laughing Stock was recorded in the same manner as the previous one, but the process was far more chaotic and difficult: Hollis’s monomaniacal perfectionism ultimately took its toll, resulting in the dissolution of the band as the sessions wore on. But the resulting album was even more ambitious work than Spirit Of Eden, involving an enormous cast of players and endless hours of overdubbing and digital editing. Deep and heavy lyrical themes predominate such as religiosity, spiritual persecution and environmental apocalypse while the nearly formless, shape-shifting music reinforces the sense of existential crisis. Unsettled calm is shattered by bouts of vicious free-jazz scree as on “Taphead” while richly varied instrumental groupings mutate and dissolve into swaths of disconcerting noise and silence as on “Myrrhman” and “Stump.” Longer songs like “Ascension Day,” “After The Flood” and “New Grass” deploy hypnotic rhythms and spare accompaniment to evoke a state of ecstatic prayer—yet Hollis’s yearning vocals evidence a profound uncertainty. Critics in 1991 were kinder than in 1988, heralding the band’s artistic bravery but by then it was too late: the album stiffed, the band broke up and, aside from a minimalist solo album released in 1998, Mark Hollis disappeared from the music scene altogether.

In the interim, these records went on to become highly influential on the emergent “post-rock” scene in the ‘90s and beyond, with their wild dynamic swings, experimental structures and unusual instrumental textures supplanting conventional songwriting. Twenty years later, they still sound remarkably fresh and modern—quite unlike a lot of music from that era. If (like me) you thought Talk Talk was just a dumb Brit-pop band, think again.

Conveniently, EMI has recently reissued The Colour Of Spring and Spirit Of Eden in deluxe vinyl editions, which also include a DVD containing the full album and related B-sides in high-resolution 24-bit/48kHz digital—a most welcome bonus. Only available as an import from the UK, they are pricey but supremely well done: the fit and finish of the 180-gram LPs is first-rate and the music sounds superb on both formats. Sadly, the same can’t quite be said about Ba Da Bing’s reissue of Laughing Stock: the otherwise glorious sound quality is obscured by the clicks, pops and swooshes emitted by the crappy red vinyl pressing (even after several cleanings). That wouldn’t be such a problem if the music wasn’t so subtle and quiet (or if they’d included a high-rez DVD) but it is (and they didn’t). However, the expanded double-LP set does contain two fascinating instrumental outtakes and (almost) makes for it: “Five -09,” a freaky bit of electronica, and “Piano,” which sounds more like the spectral stasis of Morton Feldman’s later compositions than any kind of pop song and makes a fitting coda to Talk Talk’s final, disturbing masterpiece. Great stuff! Thank you Mr. Åkerfeldt (and Mr. Wilson) for the tip! Now I’m passing it along to you…


Jean K said...

Thanks for yet another excellent post, Rodger. I really love Hollis' solo record as well. I've always thought of it as a trilogy with the last two Talk Talk records. There was a very nice vinyl reissue that was released at the same as Laughing Stock. I must pick up the Spirit of Eden reissue before it disappears.
Have you read Rob Young's Electric Eden? It puts Talk Talk in a very interesting framework.

Rodger Coleman said...

@ Jean K: Thank you! It was such a treat to discover these records. The "Spirit of Eden" reissue is exquisite! Now, I really must get ahold of Hollis's solo record. Thanks for the tip re: Rob Young's book -- it looks fascinating!

Sam said...

Well, more investigating to do!

Here are my lists from last week:

Playlist 2012-06-11:

*Various artists: John Cage's Musicircus 2009-10-22: Richmond, VA (CDR) selections
*Daniel Barbiero and Jimmy Ghaphery: Hermes’ Labyrinth
*Colla Parte: 2010-09-19 Sonic Circuits, Fairfax VA (CDR) “Triple Portrait in a Convex Mirror”
*Colla Parte: 2011-11-11 “Tenebrae” (wav)
*John Coltrane: Stellar Regions
*Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club
*Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins
*Sun Ra: 1977-03-18: Showboat Lounge, Silver Spring, MD (CDR)
*Henry Threadgill & Zooid: 2010-02-13 Jazz Gallery, NYC (CDR) disc 1
*Various artists: “Sun Ra’s Departure” The Sun Ra Project (Blackclassical compilation) stream
*Beach Boys: That’s Why God Made the Radio
*Earth Wind & Fire: That’s the Way of the World
*Earth Wind & Fire: All in All
*Parliament-Funkadelic: Rocky Mountain Shakedown (boot CDR)
*Grateful Dead: 1968-01-23 Seattle (CDR) “Dark Star”
*Grateful Dead: 1973-08-01 Roosevelt Stadium, NJ (CDR) “Dark Star,” “Eyes of the World”
*Grateful Dead: 1974-05-14 University of Montana (CDR) “Dark Star”
*Grateful Dead: 1974-07-25 Chicago (CDR) “Dark Star”
*Jimi Hendrix Experience: 1968-08-11 Davenport, Iowa (CDR)
*High Llamas: Talahomi Way
*Mars Volta: Noctourniquet
*Yani Martinelli: Bubble Station
*Strokes: Is This It
*Various artists: District of Noise Vol. 3 (Sonic Circuits DC)

Reading List 2012-06-11:

*Norman, Philip. John Lennon: The Life (in progress)
*Pushkin, Alexander. Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse, transl. James E. Falen (in progress)
*Pushkin, Alexander. Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse, transl. Vladimir Nabokov (in progress)

Rodger Coleman said...

@ Sam. Did you actually listen to the entire Showboat Lounge show? ;) What did you think of the new Mars Volta?

Sam said...

Rodger....yes, I listened to the entire Showboat Lounge show---twice!

The new Mars Volta? hmmm....more accessible, maybe, but not as transcendent to me as Frances...but I should listen to it more. (I'm talking content, not sound quality)