Grace Notes is a weekly exploration by Jason Morehead of signs of common grace in the music world. We hope to alert you to wonderful music, some of which will be spiritual in nature but all of which will be unique and worthy of your attention. Each week we will share brief reviews of albums worthy of your attention and maybe a video or two.
Though they originally rose to fame as a Duran Duran-esque synthpop band in the ’80s, Talk Talk had evolved into something very different by the decade’s end. Spirit of Eden (1988) and Laughing Stock (1991) found the band moving in a more avant-garde, jazz-influenced direction characterized by subtle, meandering song structures, pastoral ambience, and Mark Hollis’ plaintive voice and cryptic lyrics. The move may have been career suicide — their new sound was a complete one-eighty from their earlier, more radio-friendly material — but the band’s influence has lived on and only grown stronger, even two decades after their break-up. Radiohead, Portishead, Shearwater, Sigur Rós, DJ Shadow, Bark Psychosis, Elbow, Low, and others have been influenced by Hollis and his bandmates — and many of them are contributing to Spirit of Talk Talk, a book due out in Spring 2012 that chronicles the band’s career and influence. In the meantime, if you haven’t listened to Talk Talk — or if you only know them as a result of No Doubt covering “It’s My Life” back in 2003 — then pick up a copy of Spirit of Eden or Laughing Stock. They both come with my highest “Grace Notes” recommendation.
I’ve put off writing about HTRK’s Work (work, work) for a few months now, even though I’ve been listening to it on a fairly regular basis. For one thing, it’s difficult to characterize: one could file it under “Electronica”, but that gives short shrift to the album’s semi-industrial soundscapes and the world-weary atmosphere that permeates its songs. Tone-wise, it’s a bit intimidating as well. Calling it “dark” barely scratches the surface: between Jonnine Standish’s lethargic vocals and disturbing lyrics, Nigel Yang’s ragged-yet-ephemeral guitar noises, and the glacial beats and synth-work, the whole album seems to enveloped in a cloud of perpetual haze. Indeed, Blade Runner-esque cityscapes often come to mind while listening to the album. But just as Blade Runner‘s dystopic, permanently shrouded sprawl was often visually intoxicating, Work (work, work) can also be sonically intoxicating. There’s a certain ghostly allure at work in these songs, as well as a desperation that one can’t help but trace back to the 2010 suicide of Standish and Yang’s bandmate Sean Stewart. You can listen to the entire album here.
Back in October, I told you about Sam Billen’s Kickstarter campaign to fund his holiday project, A Light Goes On. The project was successfully funded, and it’s now available for your holiday enjoyment and edification. A Light Goes On‘s artistic roster is pretty impressive, including musical and visual contributes from the likes of Half-Handed Cloud, The Tenniscoats, Timbre, Dan Billen, Danny Joe Gibson, Beau Jennings, and of course, Sam Billen himself. If you’re looking for some original holiday music to listen to, or an alternative to the packaged Christmas muzak that fills stores and shopping malls this time of year, then A Light Goes On might just be the thing for you.