"Laughing Stock" picks up straight where "Spirit of Eden" left off, with some astounding genre-bending experimental music. It blends elements of jazz, classical minimalism, ambient and blues-rock to give a rich and varied sound world. Throughout, Mark Hollis's clipped but piercing voice floats smoothly around the textures.
"Myrrhman" begins the album with some floaty minimalism, and slowly-shifting abstract jazzy chords. The pace is picked up by the hissing percussion of "Ascension Day". The harmonicas and screeching organ give this song a sneering bluesy feel. "After the Flood" builds on this bluesy sound, and extends it masterfully through nine minutes. It's a slow, laid-back but perfectly-timed song with a powerful refrain, and doesn't drag in the slightest.
"Taphead" emerges from nothing, seeming to use silence as a musical instrument in itself. It ebbs and flows subtly and beautifully using a group of muted horns, reminiscent of Miles Davis's (Gil Evans) orchestral stuff. There's a slight lull in tension with "New Grass", which is nice and mellow, but it doesn't build on the hissing hi-hat and organ sound that we've heard before. "Runeii" ends the album with minimalist beauty. Hollis's whispering, little guitar splashes and a bit of chorused piano just float away into nothing.
December 20, 2003