Transitioning the Seasons with Spirit of Eden

I’m admittedly a latecomer to this seminal and influential work, but it’s better late than never. And it’s thrilling to know that despite my exhaustive hours of daily music surveys and research that there are still reflective, beautiful gems still waiting to be discovered.

And so it is with Talk Talk’s 1988 LP, Spirit of Eden. The album is critically-lauded as a progenitor of the genre which would come to define the decade that followed. Wikipedia’s article on Talk Talk’s co-founder and songwriter, the late Mark Hollis calls attention to the fact that, “While they were commercial failures in their own time, these albums have come to be seen as early landmarks of post-rock music.

Two quotes from Hollis resonated deeply with my own philosophies of music and composition. In an interview with Danish TV, 22nd February 1998, Hollis said:

“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.” 

And in an interview with BBC Radio 1’s Richard Skinner around the release of their next album, Laughing Stock, Hollis adds:

“The silence is above everything, and I would rather hear one note than I would two, and I would rather hear silence than I would one note.”

Wikipedia’s entry for Spirit of Eden offers some insight into the album’s composition:

The album was compiled from a lengthy recording process at London’s Wessex Studios between 1987 and 1988. Often working in darkness, the band recorded many hours of improvised performances that drew on elements of jazz, ambient, blues, classical music, and dub.

But it was the praise-filled Pitchfork article on the album which inspired my first-listen, where the album was rated a perfect 10/10 score. The lengthy article offers a much-deserved contextual examination of the album and a few key remarks caught my attention:

In interviews, he would point to Miles Davis and Gil Evans’ orchestral jazz masterpiece Sketches of Spain, or the zen experiments of John Cage, or Vittorio De Sica’s avant-garde film The Bicycle Thieves as touchpoints for his inspiration. 

The thrill of this music is the same thrill of listening to some of the great works of jazz, classical, and pop: the soul of Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, the obtuse landscapes of Morton Feldman, the production and patience of Brian Eno. Today, this coming together of spirit and sound still feels like a radical and mysterious feat of popular music.

This was unequivocally an album I needed to hear.

And The Guardian described the album as a blend of “pastoral jazz, contemporary classical, folk, prog rock and loose blues into a single, doggedly uncommercial musical tapestry” which would be labeled “post-rock.”

Whatever label one elects to apply, this is an exquisite specimen of sound-art, and warrants repeated listenings on reflective winter evenings such as this.

And a dear friend and ambient composer offered an insightful remark on the album, saying, “What especially impresses me is how fluid and organic it is in evading any traditional sense of ‘rock music’ at all — and this is especially apparent in much of the soft dynamics. Any sense of music at all is almost not there, as if the music is on the verge of dissipating into silence.”

RateYourMusic files the album under the categories of jazz-rock, chamber jazz, art rock, and chamber music, and its user-base charts the album as #2 for its original release year, hot on the heels of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. And the site offers no shortage of poetic descriptors of Hollis’ style, calling it “atmospheric, passionate, peaceful, religious, introspective, meditative, lush, soothing, spiritual, bittersweet, lonely, sparse, sentimental, pastoral, soft, ethereal, melancholic, progressive, calm, uplifting, and hypnotic.”

Hypnotic indeed. I immediately tracked down a copy of the UK-issued 180g 2012 remastered edition with a companion 96kHz/24bit stereo DVD. It’s the perfect soundtrack to usher in the spring.

Talk Talk - Spirit of Eden 180g 2012 2LP remaster with 96kHz 24bit stereo DVD + bonus track

Published in: on March 14, 2020 at 9:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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