Brian Eno – Drums Between The Bells

Brian Eno – Drums Between The Bells



Poetry and music may seem like natural partners, but they often make a difficult pairing. Sure, beat poets and other rap progenitors had musical backing, but that backing was usually minimal and rhythm-based. So what if you were to match up spoken-word prose with a more textured, abstract soundtrack? Though he’s not the first to try, Brian Eno attempts to answer that question with Drums Between The Bells, his second release under the Warp label. The poet in question is Rick Holland, an acquaintance of Eno’s who has collaborated with him on music since 2003. Holland’s words are ambiguous and impressionistic, often concerning science (namely biology), city living and philosophy. Since the poems often shoot for these intellectual themes, Eno frames these words with suitably pensive backdrops, some of which shuffle along, some of which are moody atmospherics in line with his early ambient work. And though Holland contributes the words for every track, he only contributes his voice to one. The reciting duties are instead doled out to some other of Eno’s acquaintances (primarily women), which helps to give the record some much-needed variety.

Unfortunately, though everything seems to be in order, Drums Between The Bells is a rather scattershot album, haphazardly alternating between wondrous and plain boring. This is no fault of Holland’s, whose words serve their purpose throughout, but rather of Eno’s, whose gift for depth and understatement is frustratingly wasted here. While the music was certainly created to fit the tone of each poem, a number of songs, particularly in the second half, simply feel like he’s phoning it in, while “Sounds Alien” underscores why Eno didn’t make a name for himself as a dance producer. He also pitch-shifts and otherwise manipulates the vocals on many tracks, which occasionally distracts from the words, and sometimes the vocals themselves are at odds with the musical atmosphere, detracting from the striking soundscapes, such as on “A Title.” (One senses Eno knew this because the deluxe edition of Drums comes with a second, instrumental-only disc.) Don’t be fooled, though: when the words and music do sync up, Drums can be a thing of cerebral beauty. The gorgeous and delicate duo “Dreambirds” and “Pour It Out” feel more complex than they are, the way Eno’s best work always does; “The Real”‘s zen-like ambiance strives for transcendence; “Bless This Space” skitters along on an off-kilter jazz groove. But for all these highlights, Drums Between The Bells often feels like little more than a sporadically intriguing lark, one that at least proves Eno is still searching for new creative outlets instead of resting on his laurels.

Posted on July 11, 2011, in Brian Eno. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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