After the announcement that the first chance one would have to hear Hollis' new work would be through the incidental music of a pay channel drama starring Kelsey Grammer, I admit that I didn't have high hopes. "ARB Section 1" does nothing to particularly raise my hopes, but it's at least a curiosity; it might even present a problem to be solved. After working through the strangeness of its first few seconds, the mix of weirdly tropical, Fantasia-esque strings and what sounds like the "voice" preset on a low quality keyboard (recalling the soundtrack to any number of JRPGs from the late 90s and early 00s) proves itself quite beguiling. There's a certain lushness to it that fits music from one of the primary architects of Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, but whereas those albums seem crystalline and unreal, emanations from a Platonic realm somehow beamed to a fallen world, "ARB Section 1" feels weirdly real. Its humid mystery (appropriate, given that the music was originally conceived of as the score for a 2010 film The Peacock) actually makes it feel of a piece with artists like Shlohmo, Lone, and Slugabed, which, considering how far off the beaten path Talk Talk's later releases seemed at the time, is promising.
Despite all this, the piece feels neutered without context, and I have to believe that subsequent sections of "ARB"--should they exist and be released--or at least more music to surround this piece would improve "ARB Section 1" Certainly, this feels like only half a return without Hollis' heavenly voice, which acted a beacon of light during Talk Talk and his solo work's bleakest moments, a familiar hand to guide the listener through the strangest passages. The problem that I see this track posing is one of the author function: Hollis' solo album seemed so of a piece with the final Talk Talk releases, and the long silence following it has offered a certain closure. I hear--and I'm sure I'm not the only one--that album "finishing" Talk Talk's project. If the appearance of "ARB Section 1" heralds the release of new music from Hollis, then, is it taking up that project again, suggesting that it wasn't finished in the first place, or is this a new moment, with a new project? How will the linearity of Talk Talk and Hollis' progression as an artist--one that is so perfect that it seems scripted--be understood in the face of new music? Will an equally long silence follow? In a way, "ARB Section 1" (and what follows, if anything) might cause a change in how Hollis is understood as an artist, or it might reaffirm how he is understood now by denying his new music a place in his oeuvre. Either way, it should be fascinating to watch the debates should more new music by Hollis surface.