Who missed me?* I’ve got another trip at the end of next week, but that leaves us with two very special weeks of me existing on your dashboard. Yay!
Ah yes, Spirit of Eden. That scrumptious work that laid down the foundations of post-rock through the guise of not only the more traditional art pop the group was known for, but minimalist jazz. An endlessly weaving tapestry that not only completes itself by its own existence but slips through the sands of time unchanged, as timeless as music can be. A deeply spiritual experience, a barrage of intense fervor simmering under the lid of professional restraint and understated beauty. A work melancholy if any deserves the word, a musically transcendent piece of pure distilled…
Actually you know what screw that. I’m not good at this stuff, and this album is too modest to be described in such superlatives as are often associated with it. I can get behind a lot of those superlatives, but ultimately the most striking thing about Spirit of Eden to me is its humility. A lot of post-rock (and artsy music in general) sets out with the goal of dragging you right through an intense experience, leaving you with the impression that you’ve just experienced something divine, or nearly so. My favorite of these (at least of what I’ve listened too) is Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, a well-deserved classic that shook me in a way nothing else in the genre thus far has been able to replicate.
Spirit of Eden, on the other hand, is shy. It’s not about experiencing divinity; it’s about admiring it from a distance with timid reverence, never daring to approach it. Any hints of that greater experience are brief and not fully realized. It’s a LANDSCAPE album, one that works in space rather than feeling or time.
If you know anything about my taste in music, it would seem from this description that I wouldn’t appreciate this album because of how distant it is. It’s true that I would probably rather be swept away than quietly sit down to watch the stars, but I try to make my open-mindedness as close to a universal principle as good taste will let me. No term that can be taken as an objective description should be used as a criticism unless my experience was so adverse it cannot be taken otherwise. These include such popular pejoratives as “weird,” “slow,” “immature,” “overexposed,” “saccharine,” and yes, “distant.”
But Mr. Miniiiiiikkkeee! Wasn’t that the main reason Spiderland didn’t click with you?
Why yes, person who has so little of a life that they actually keep track of my opinions. Here’s the difference: Spiderland is clinical (which IS an acceptable pejorative by me, albeit a heavily subjective one), Spirit of Eden is human. Its melancholy is effective because of its warmth, however far away the hearth might be. If you call Spirit of Eden cold, you need to get your ears checked.
Now that I’ve completed my dare to write five paragraphs of an album review without discussing the actual music, let’s discuss the actual music. It’s a minimalist album, but it’s the most layered and lush minimalist album I’ve ever heard. The slow opening notes of “The Rainbow”, shifting between several instruments, give an instant gauge as to a potential listener’s enjoyment. If you’re not taken by the guitar entrance at the two and a half minute mark, you probably won’t be taken by anything else on the album. The album’s overall theme of yearning is complimented very well by the compositional style: every note hits, but leaves mountains unsaid. Blowing everything up to epic proportions wouldn’t have been nearly as effective as the slow, gorgeous melodies dipping up and down before eventually fading. “The Rainbow” is the longest and most desperate example of this, with jarring guitar lines popping up when they’re least expected.
“Eden”, on the other hand, is pure bliss. It glows and flows, like a lethargic stream. It’s comforting and nourishing, even viscerally satisfying with its shimmering intensification at the five minute mark, like the stream has opened into a waterfall. “Desire” snatches away the momentary happiness for stark melancholy, and the result is like a slow-motion drowning, complete with shining organ and incredibly jarring chorus that only serves to push hope down further. The piano leads you out into ambiguous relief, or perhaps deeper despair.
These first three songs (AKA the first side) are a complete unit on their own, and in all honesty the album could have stopped there. The second side is doomed to pale in comparison, especially since it’s more pop then ambient, but thankfully it’s still brilliant. The hooks are a lot more visible and muscled here, in order to make Talk Talk’s ambience experiment at least somewhat commercially viable, and the songwriting is solid if not immaculate. “Inheritance” rises and falls in an artistic prelude to Godspeed-style “crescendocore” post-rock, albeit in a much more restrained way. “I Believe In You” is breathtaking, an ethereal-yet-earthy reflection on overcoming substance abuse strengthed by the true story of Mark Hollis’ own triumph over heroin. The contemplatively complete finally “Wealth” relies perhaps a bit too much on repeated chords, but generally brings effective closure to Hollis’ semi-spiritual journey.
Spirit of Eden is one of those “magical” albums for many people, including me, and smothering it in hyperbolic praise is all too easy once it gets to you (a trap I fell into when I first listened to Skinny Fists). I must recommend this album, to do anything otherwise would be wrong, but don’t read about my or anyone elses’ super-emotional experience with it and go in expecting the same. Let it carve out your own experience. Walk through Eden at your own pace.
Ahhh…it’s good to be back. Now for another metal album or something.
Thematic Content: 5/5
Resonance: 5/5 I have never wanted to put a 6/5 more than now.
Experience: “And now please rise for our opening hymn, uh…‘In the Garden of Eden’ by I. Ron Butterfly.”
10+/10. Best Song: Eden