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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The Sound of Homecoming: The Complete Collaborations of Harold Budd and John Foxx

2018 has been a year of great personal development and growth, and as such, I’ve found myself time and again seeking warm, familiar tonalities rather than venturing into the unfamiliar and novel territories I’d explored in the years prior. I found it comforting to revisit long-standing favorite composers who created a sense of returning home each time I revisited their catalogs. That is precisely what made this latest discovery such a joy for me at this point in my life.

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Harold Budd is unquestionably one of the foremost veterans in the field of ambient composition. His trademark soft-pedal technique is instantly captivating and calming, and while he may not be breaking any new ground in the genre, that’s not what his listeners are seeking. Budd commands a mastery of his craft seldom matched in his field, and he’s consistently delivered quality contemplative soundscapes for nearly fifty years.

At 81 years of age, Harold Budd has shown no sign of slowing down. He’s collaborated with numerous artists, including Brian Eno, Robin Guthrie, The Cocteau Twins, Clive Wright, Eraldo Bernocchi, Bill Nelson, Andy Partridge, Daniel Lentz, Fila Brazilla, & U2. Budd retired briefly in 2005 but quickly returned to composition and released ten more albums and this magnificent new acquisition in the years that followed. I’d always wanted a vinyl keepsake of Budd’s music, but much of his catalog was limited to compact disc, including the Budd Box seven-disc set. That what made this discovery an exciting addition to my library.

From the original VinylFactory announcement in September:

Translucence, Drift Music and Nighthawks are being released on limited edition 3xLP by Demon Music for the first time.

Translucence / Drift Music is a 2003 double studio album from ex-Ultravox frontman John Foxx and ambient composer Harold Budd. Minimalist composer Ruben Garcia joined the duo to feature on their third album Nighthawks.

The triple vinyl package also features artwork by Jonathan Barnbrook, the graphic designer who created the Grammy-winning art for David Bowie’s Blackstar.

This box set features the complete Budd/Foxx recordings – seminal collaborations of the ambient genre. Nighthawks is dedicated to Garcia, who sadly passed away in 2013. At the announcement of the box set, Popmatters.com noted that, at the album’s 142-minute runtime, you’re going to need a lot of candles. They called the set, “lovely and provocative” with occasional chromatics and discord. “The City Stops for Snow” was described as “painting a picture of urban stillness” with its interplay of tiny overtones over top the many sustains and echoes.

This is the first time these recordings have been available on vinyl, and Demon Records did an exquisite job. The discs are 180g heavyweight vinyl, housed in a rigid slipcase. This release also comes with a limited print signed by John Foxx.

Harold Budd & John Foxx - Translucence Drift Music Nighthawks Box Set

Rateyourmusic user, dvd offered some valuable insight about the impact of this music on the listener:

It is very strange: after I listen I find it really difficult to recall any more specific details of the music itself. … The music is so transparent, like there is nothing to grab onto, and it just sort of drifts in and out on the edge of consciousness on its own. Maybe this is not a bad thing for ambient music, and likely part of what the creators were going for based on the title(s). For all its subtleties, the music still feels like it has some power over my mental state, as if it puts me in sort of a weird trance: something that’s vaguely serene and beautiful.

Paste Magazine shared similar remarks about the tranquil calm of this set, calling it “almost unbearably beautiful.” The impressionistic nature of the soundscapes was described as evoking images of “silhouettes of birds cutting across an early evening sky or slowly floating on a quiet, still body of water” and “tramping through a blanket of white on a quiet boulevard.” This is precisely the sort of contemplative music which brings me that feeling of homecoming.

I discovered Budd’s compositions early in my musical journey, initially through his collaborations with Brian Eno. The Pearl and The Plateaux of Mirror were albums I instantly knew I needed to have on vinyl, and they were followed shortly thereafter by an original pressing of his critically-acclaimed collaboration with Cocteau Twins for The Moon and The Melodies. But other than the aforementioned titles and a pressing of The Serpent in Quicksilver, I’d never been able to find a release on vinyl that truly felt like it celebrated and showcased Budd’s best work. And sadly the Budd Box has only been issued on CD. So imagine my excitement at discovering this recently-issued collection of the complete Budd & Foxx recordings!

Mike Powell of Pitchfork fittingly described Harold Budd’s characteristic sound as existing “in that misty place between ambient, new age, and minimalist composition, where everything is gentle and nothing lasts for long.” Powell described Budd’s quietly recognizable style as “intimate and intuitive; fragile but warm; seductive but just a little bit mysterious, like the soft tinkling of a presence in the next room.”

But perhaps the most fitting description comes from the set’s designer Jonathan Barnbrook who explains:

These are pieces that I return to again and again. Separate from his (John Foxx) more electronic work, they have a humanity and serenity that only comes with a great musician working in collaboration with others greats in an empathetic, understanding style. The music has a delicate, reflective quality – of human beings that have lived life and realise the beauty of it all, the joy and the suffering. They ask us to stop and consider, and that despite it all we should never desire to change a moment of it.

TheQuietus published a wonderful interview with John Foxx at the launch of this box set. His remarks revealed much about the albums’ composition and his thoughts about their collaboration. Foxx stated that he, “especially wanted to extend the harmonics of the piano strings resonance and sonic decay and use that as a live, real-time expansion of the sound.“ He went so far as to call Budd “a modern-day Satie.”

And describing the production process, Foxx said:

We also used another completely unique property of recording – reversed time. By reversing sounds and recording reverbs, then playing them forward and applying further layers of reverberation, you can enrich the already extended harmonics. You also have the miracle of reverberations moving simultaneously forward and backwards in time, and a truly complex interplay and texture going on between them. We took all this layering and multiplying as far as we possibly could, while still observing the delicacy and emotional tone of the pieces. All you have to do is listen and feel.

Allmusic.com summarized Budd’s sound as “distinctively dreamy, often extraordinary and occasionally ominous” and likens his technique to that of Erik Satie and Claude Debussy. Budd’s slowly morphing reverberant and shimmering atmospherics certainly have an impressionistic quality, and the parallels drawn to these greats are not inapt.

To those who might precipitously dismiss these works as simple new age music, I’d offer this closing remark from The Brighton Festival’s Guy Morley who said, “I think the impact of Harold is yet to be realised. Tonally, Harold has always come from a very deep and instinctive place. You don’t need a degree in composition. Its simplicity belies its originality.”

By any measure, this box set is a fantastic keepsake for anyone who enjoys the godfathers of ambient music.

Tracklist:

LP 1 / Translucence

1.Subtext
2.Spoken Roses
3.Momentary Architecture
4.Adult
5. Long Light
6. A Change In The Weather
7. Here And Now
8. Almost Overlooked
9. Implicit
10. Raindust
11.Missing Person
12. You Again

LP 2 / Drift Music

1. Sunlit Silhouette
2. The Other Room
3. Some Way Through All The Cities
4. Stepping Sideways
5 A Delicate Romance
6. Linger
7. Curtains Blowing
8. Weather Patterns
9. Coming Into Focus
10. After All This Time
11. Someone Almost There
12. Resonant Frequency
13. Avenue Of Trees
14. Underwater Flowers
15. Arriving

LP 3 / Nighthawks

1. Down A Windy Street
2. Now That I’ve Forgotten You
3. The Invisible Man
4. Fugitive Desire
5. From Then To Now
6. When The City Stops For Snow
7. The Shadow Of Her Former Self
8. Music For Swimmers
9. Lovedust
10. Nighthawks

The 5 Percent Nation of Chocolaty Delicious: It comes down to THIS!

The long-awaited and much-anticipated Soul Coughing 180g vinyl issues have arrived!

MusicDirect lists the official ship date as 08-31-15 for the Sept street date but pre-orders shipped in advance from their Chicago distribution center and arrived at my door in NY this morning.

If you missed the pre-order and still want to grab these for your collection, each of their albums are still available at the regular price from MusicDirect here.

This is the very first time Ruby Vroom has ever been made available in a vinyl format. If you’re a fan (or if you had a pulse in the 90s) this is the time to claim some SC love for your own.

“And it booms as cool as sugar free jazz”

All my SC promos CDs and cassettes are packed for the move at present, but I’m enjoying digging through my archive of live shows and radio sessions this evening.  And The Rev 105’s Moonlight Meditations program featured a unique look at M Doughty’s poetry in 1996.

Highlights from Soul Coughing and Mike Doughty’s live material

There are currently 126 solo shows available for free at Archive.org.  The site also hosts the 23 known live recordings of Soul Coughing.  This weekend will be a great opportunity to complete my own archive of all things from the Soul Coughing Underground.

Happy Friday everyone!