Ten year ago this fall, the brilliant Giancarlo Erra was in the studios writing, recording, and mixing what would become his magnum opus, LIGHTDARK, one of the first releases from the then-brand new KScope Records. Nothing Erra writes and records is unimportant, of course, but nothing he has done has quite matched the flawless LIGHTDARK, in its composition, its harmonies, its reach, and its flow. Never could this be wallpaper music. It is music that demands full immersion. As with T.S Eliot’s Four Quartets, Erra’s LIGHTDARK demands that we the listener stand within the art itself, seeing the world form the perspective of the art. As such, Erra is a genius, bringing us fully into his music.
As with some of the best composers of the past century, Erra eschews all forms of bombast as he whispers longingly toward the true, the good, and the beautiful. He is not afraid of silence, knowing that the notes that surround silence, do so affectionately and even passionately.
Imagine Mark Hollis writing music for Pink Floyd while serving as the backup band to Arvo Part, and you might get close to the genius and talent of Giancarlo Erra.
Though I’m sure someone could make the case for either REVOLVER or SGT. PEPPER’s being the first prog album, I’ve always turned to PET SOUNDS by the Beach Boys. I’m sure there’s a bit of the American in me that desires this to be so, so I can’t completely claim to be unbiased. I know English proggers–understandably–think of Prog as one of their many national gifts to the world, somewhere above the Magna Carta. And, it is! Still, it’s conceivable that it came about in California but then was perfected by the English. Maybe. Maybe not.
As Brian Wilson has noted, he found his own inspiration for the album in RUBBER SOUL by the Beatles. Is it possible the influence went both directions across the Atlantic? Most certainly.
Regardless, PET SOUNDS is fifty years old. And, what an extraordinary achievement it is. Though one might regard it somewhat probably as a Brian Wilson solo album, it came out under the name of the Beach Boys, and it carries with it many of the trademark Beach Boy sounds and touches.
A review of SAND (Sam Healy), A SLEEPER, JUST AWAKE (forthcoming, September 30, 2016). 9 tracks.
As much as I’d like to start with something artsy (the album deserves it), I’ll just be really, utterly, completely, and totally blunt. This album is extraordinary. After a summer of horrors and violence (not personally, but around the world), this album seems like the necessary art to calm the savage soul. I think this is, quite possibly, Healy’s best.
As I’ve written a number of times before when writing about Healy (solo) and about North Atlantic Oscillation, he does three things with unadulterated excellence.
When Airbag first appeared on the prog scene with their extraordinary album, IDENTITY (2008-2009), they seemed a fascinating cross between Pink Floyd and Talk Talk, at least in their influences. Or more accurately, perhaps, imagine Pink Floyd performing Talk Talk songs. Even the cover of IDENTITY looked like something James Marsh would’ve painted. The atmosphere the band created—at least in the studio—was nothing short of astounding. Moody, driven, and meaningful. One might be tempted to call their music prog shoe-gaze.
Their first and only (as far as I know) live release, LIVE IN OSLO, proved just how amazingly talented the four members of Airbag are. After hearing them live, no one could dismiss them as a studio band merely. As much as I liked IDENTITY, it was the 24 minutes of LIVE IN OSLO that utterly blew me away. Upon my first listen to this short album, I knew this band was something special.
Twenty-five years ago this fall, progarchist editor Craig Breaden and I were in Waterloo Records, Austin, Texas. There it was on the shelves—the final Talk Talk album, LAUGHING STOCK, in all of its James Marsh-esque glory. Of course, I purchased it as quickly as possible. After all, it had just come out, and Craig and I were living in pre-internet days in northern Utah. We had a music store nearby, but however good it was—and, frankly, it was pretty good—it wouldn’t have dreamt of carrying anything by a band so strange as Talk Talk.
So fortunate we were at a history conference in Texas at the same moment as LAUGHING STOCK’s release.
Craig and I were not only officemates and apartment mates, but we were best friends and music mates. How many hours flew by with Craig and I devouring music—old and new—and then discussing and analyzing every bit of it. I still cherish these nights and even weekend-days as some of the best of my life. Though I’d grown up in a house that respected nearly every form of music, I had never been introduced to some of the great psychedelic and experimental rock acts of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Unless it was by Yes, Genesis, or Jethro Tull, I really didn’t know it. Craig played Procol Harum, Soft Machine, Spooky Tooth, and Traffic for me. I fell in love with each. As the time Craig and I (and another close friend, Joel) were spending so much time together, the music scene itself was going through a bit of a psychedelic revival—with World Party, Charlatans, and others—and this only added to our excitement.
As soon as we returned from Austin, I recorded the full album of LAUGHING STOCK on each side of a double-sided TDK cassette and enthusiastically played this tape over and over and over and over. . . . Even though Craig and I had shared many enthusiasms with each other, this obsession with Talk Talk seemed more than a bit too enthusiastic to Craig.
By sheer force of will, I fear, Craig had to accept this or our friendship would suffer! Of course, here we are, a quarter of a century later, still very close friends and co-editors of progarchy. . . . You know the story ended well.
For nearly thirty years, I instantly answered the question of “what is your favorite band” with Talk Talk and Rush. If pushed a bit more, I would add Tears for Fears and, depending on my mood, Genesis or Yes or XTC. This rote answer became almost proudly knee-jerk on my part.
When challenged about this opinion, I rather haughtily pointed to THE COLOUR OF SPRING, SPIRIT OF EDEN, and LAUGHING STOCK. After all, who could top fourteen months a shot, recording in dark, deserted churches, challenging every single bit of corporate conformity in the music business.
Mark Hollis, Tim-Friese-Green, and Phill Brown were not just three more musicians in the industry, they lingered as demi-gods at the very edge of Valhalla itself, ready to release Ragnoräk at any moment. And, power to them! As far as I was concerned, the music industry needed and deserved a revolution.
Recently, I’ve realized that Talk Talk no longer holds top spot in my mind when it comes to bands (Big Big Train has finally replaced Talk Talk in my mind and in my soul), but it will always be in the top three for me. For too many years, Talk Talk was my go-to band, my comfort and my first love in the world of music. To this day—and, I presume, to the end of my days—the final three albums the band made will always be the three by which I judge every other release in the music world. Few albums or bands, then or now, can measure up to such heights. But, such is my mind and soul.
Part II to come soon. . . . In the meantime, enjoy 19 minutes of Hollis talking about LAUGHING STOCK.
It’s April 5, the day we all thank the Good Lord for the artistry of Mark Hollis and Talk Talk.
Thank you, Mark, Lee, Paul, Phill, and Tim.
As bad as bad becomes
It’s not a part of you
And love is only sleeping
Wrapped in neglect
Time it’s time to live,
Time it’s time to live through the pain
Time it’s time to live
Now that it’s all over
Time it’s time to live,
Time it’s time to live through the pain
Now that it’s over,
Now that it’s over
Kissing a grey garden
Shadow and shade
Sunlight treads softly
After years of struggle and some serious denial, I’ve finally come out of the closet.
BBT is my favorite band.
There, I wrote it.
Had you asked me two weeks ago, I would not have hesitated: Talk Talk, followed closely by Rush. Then, I might’ve said something akin to “Of new bands, my favorite is Big Big Train.”
Change doesn’t always come easily to me, especially when it involves issues of loyalty. I’m not even sure how many years it took me to realize I liked Talk Talk better than Rush, and, of course, the “like” was incremental. If Rush is at 100, then Talk Talk is at 101.
Big Big Train, however, is now 102.
I suspected this the other day as I listened to THE UNDERFALL YARD for who knows how many times. Well, actually, I do know how many times. One can readily find years of stats accumulated on and by iTunes. Yes, unquestionably, Big Big Train ranks higher than either Talk Talk or Rush in terms of numbers of plays.
It’s not just perception on my part, it’s actual fact.
For what it’s worth, I took a quick break from work this evening and forced myself to write down my twenty favorite rock albums. I gave it almost no thought–I just brain stormed and listed my all-time favorite albums of the rock era. [I intentionally left off all Rush albums.]
Despite my own restrictions, I discovered something very interesting. At least to me.
For the last 29 years, I would have listed my favorite album of all time as Talk Talk’s The Colour of Spring. My iTunes numbers tell me something different, and I must agree.
As someone who grew up with Genesis in the 1970s and followed the band’s career very carefully until 1986, I found the most recent BBC documentary, Genesis: Together and Apart (2014 or 2015–I’ve seen both dates listed for its copyright), a serious disappointment.
Not that there weren’t some fine moments in the film. There most certainly were. Some great conversations? Yes. Some great scenes? Absolutely.
But, overall, watching the documentary made me feel as though I’d entered a de Tocquevillian nightmare. What is common becomes what is great in this story. Indeed, the documentary argues that it’s best to take one’s highest art and pander some low form to the masses, mediated by corporate marketers and profit-grubbing labels.
And, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not such a snob that I don’t enjoy post-Hackett Genesis. I do. I still consider ABACAB (1981) a great art-rock album. For me, there’s not a dud on the album, and it has never grown stale for me. While I don’t listen to it as much as I do MOVING PICTURES, which also came out that year, I listen to it constantly and have for 35 years.
I don’t have a problem with GENESIS (1983), either. While there’s a song or two on the album that does nothing for me, I still find “Mama” quite haunting and “Home by the Sea” outstanding. And, as much as Genesis fans mock “The Silver Rainbow” as sophomoric, I think it’s quite endearing, having captured the mystery (and clumsiness) of a moment of love quite accurately.
Of all the bands I love and review, the hardest to review—without question—is Nosound. At least for me.
This post is a perfect example to illustrate my failings. I’ve had a copy of Nosound’s 2015 live album, TEIDE 2390, for nearly a year, and I’ve still not written a review. And, if you know me, you know I’m obsessed with writing, and I’m especially obsessed with writing about what I love.
I was recently told as a criticism: in my writing, I “fling superlatives.” My response to this is: “why, yes, I absolutely and most certainly love to fling superlatives.” It’s true. Just imagine what I’m like when I’m lecturing to forty 19-year olds.
With Nosound, however, it’s really, really (sometimes outrageously!) hard to fling superlatives. Why? Because everything glorious about Nosound is understated, tasteful, and minimalist. As a 48-year old Kansan, I just don’t do minimalist well. At least when it comes to writing. Yet, I know and appreciate minimalism—especially when it comes to the computers and gadgets designed by Steve Jobs (rest in peace) or the music so lovingly crafted by Mark Hollis or Arvo Part.
Enter Giancarlo Erra. His Nosound is profoundly delicate. Not effete. By not means, effete. Never. But, certainly delicate.
As I’ve written before, Erra is a genius, plain and simple. This is as clear in his photography as it is in his music and his lyrics. Again, far from effete, he approaches art and the world of art and creativity with an extreme sensitivity. His creativity in his photography is as much about what is not there as it as about what is there.
The same is even more true of his music. Nosound is as much about silence as it about notes.
Throw in Erra’s somewhat mystical lyrics and dream-like vocals and you find yourself—as a listener—fully immersed in his world, drifting along some radically natural psychedelic dream state.
His lyrics deal with frustration, loss, desire, hope, depression, joy, and everything that matters in this world and, perhaps, in the next.
A little over seventy-five minutes in length and recorded in September, 2014, on a Spanish island, TEIDE 2390 demonstrates that Erra’s genius is not merely in the studio. As he’s demonstrated before—his live version of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” is possibly better than the original version from the early 1970s (heresy, I know!)—he knows exactly how to create a full minimalist sound, even on stage and away from the hyper-controlled environment of a professional studio. This is no small achievement, as the music demands the full attention of an audience that probably would not mind head banging. No one head bangs to Nosound. Instead, one swirls, and rides, and flies, and soars, and dips, and drifts.
I think it’s probably fair to state that many proggers like their music heavy and fast. Erra reminds us so importantly that we need to breathe as well.