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Talk Talk Frontman and Post-Rock Innovator Mark Hollis Dead at 64

Mark Hollis, co-founder and mastermind behind the British band Talk Talk, passed away on February 24, at the age of 64. In a BBC interview, former Talk Talk band manager Keith Aspen stated that Hollis “died after a short illness from which he never recovered.”

Talk Talk began their career as a massively popular synthpop band in the early 1980s. They began to chart with early hits such as “It’s My Life” in 1984, before evolving into a “New Romantic” art pop style on their 1986 album The Colour of Spring, which was a major commercial and critical success.

In the late 1980s, Talk Talk began to experiment and incorporate influences of other genres of music, such as progressive rock, jazz, ambient, and chamber music. Their 1988 record Spirit of Eden, which is retrospectively considered the first post-rock album by music fans and critics, features spacious, layered arrangements and improvisation from studio musicians.

While the band’s bold experimentation on Spirit of Eden has been a major influence on countless musicians, Talk Talk’s departure from their pop sound proved to harm the band’s commercial appeal and resulted in a fallout with their label, EMI.

After bassist Paul Webb left the band in 1989, Talk Talk signed to Polydor Records and released their final album, Laughing Stock (1991), which continued the band’s departure into experimental sounds. While Spirit of Eden is a soothing, peaceful album, Laughing Stock relies on cathartic rhythms and intense soundscapes. Shortly after the album’s release, Talk Talk permanently disbanded.

Mark Hollis released an eponymous album in 1998 before permanently retiring from the music industry so he could raise his children. In the years following his final album and leading up until his death, Hollis was notoriously hidden from the public spotlight, despite universal retrospective praise regarding his experimental approach to music recording from major publications like The Guardian.

Hollis’ approach to music was unique; he embraced improvisation and the use of silence. Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock have many moments were instrumentation progressively builds louder and louder out of peaceful silence. “I like silence.  I get on great with silence, you know. I don’t have a problem with it.  It’s just silent, y’know. So it’s kind of like well if you’re going to break into it, just try and have a reason for doing it,” Hollis said. With him, every note of music had to have a purpose in order to replace silence.

Mark Hollis aimed to have his music stand the test of time. “The idea is that the album won’t be recognizable as having come from any time, having been recorded in any particular year.” He reached his goal: Talk Talk’s later albums do not sound like they’re from the 80s and early 90s. Transcendent and immersive, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock make time feel unimportant, as if the music has always existed in the realm of the human psyche. After Hollis’ death, his music will continue to impact listeners and musicians alike, and teach them to embrace silence instead of fearing it.

Article By: AJ Frigoletto