Category Archives: Brian Eno

Brian Eno – Drums Between The Bells

Brian Eno – Drums Between The Bells

3/5

2011

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.

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Brian Eno – Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno – Small Craft On A Milk Sea

4/5

2010

There’s a certain inevitability to Brian Eno joining up with Warp Records to release an album. The label has launched many an influential electronic musician’s career, and much of its output is often directly inspired from Eno’s pioneering ambient work in the 1970s. Considering he is currently been more notable for his production work (Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, or, Death And All His Friends, for instance) and collaborations (such as his 2008 album with David Byrne) than his own solo work, this was as good a time as any to begin to make waves with Small Craft On A Milk Sea, his first Warp release.

Recorded with longtime collaborators Leo Abrahams and Jon Hopkins, Small Craft is undoubtedly a largely ambient work, but it is also often more rhythmically aggressive than one expects from Eno. Not to say that he hasn’t explored more abrasive soundscapes in the past, but when Abrahams’ guitar slams in and all hell breaks loose on “2 Forms Of Anger,” Eno is clearly mining different terrain. Others like the shuffling “Flint March” and the jagged “Horse” follow suit. Still, it is the gentler and more atmospheric tracks where he truly excels. Sister tracks “Emerald and Stone” and “Emerald and Lime” are two gorgeous keyboard pieces that approach the same melody in different ways, while the eerie menace of “Calcium Needles” and the pensive closer “Late Anthropocene” bring darker, murkier shades into the mix. Occasionally the songs feel like underdeveloped filler—Eno has worked with short-form ambient compositions before, but here a few songs aren’t given the room to flourish.  These tracks, though, even have their moments of beauty, helping to make Small Craft On A Milk Sea one of the best albums Eno has produced in his latter-day career and proof that the master can still get the job done.