Mark Hollis died on February 25th, 2019. For those of you not familiar, he was the lead singer and principle song writer of Talk Talk, one of my all time favorite bands.
Mark’s music has left an indelible impression on me. Following the success of Talk Talk’s synth driven pop album The Colour of Spring, he proceeded to make two stunningly beautiful and daringly uncommercial albums, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. It’s not hyperbole for me to say that my musical life is split into the periods before and after I heard these records.
I recently wrote a blog post called The Medium is the Message, which was about how guitar sounds communicate just as much about what is said being musically as the notes do. You could absolutely say the same thing about record production and songs, and these two records are flat out master classes in vibe.
Phill Brown (who did an amazing job recording and engineering) details the process of making these records in his excellent book “Are We Still Rolling?”. He describes long stretches of time in the studio with the windows blacked out and clocks removed. Endless scrutiny of the drum performances, causing the drummer to develop a psychosomatic illness. Guest musicians would be brought in and made to improvise over every song on the record in one long take, only to have 3 or 4 seconds of their performance kept. Recording barely whispered vocals from 30 feet away.
Some of it is wildly inspiring to me, and some of it sounds like a terrible way to work, but I can’t deny how beautiful and powerful the result is. Especially on Laughing Stock, the sounds are the song and the song is the sound. It’s using the studio as an instrument. It’s impossible to tell what is an improvised, captured moment and what is an intentional gesture.
These albums shine a light on a path of creativity and discovery for everyone willing to listen with an open mind. Recorded music is more than melody, harmony, and lyrics. It’s timbre, texture, contrast, space, ambience. Listen deeply and learn.
Thank you, Mark Hollis, for what you have given to me and the world with your music.