Early member of Roxy Music, producer of superstars, inventor of ambient music - the list of accomplishments by Brian Eno form a long list. 


But is he still musically relevant in these days of autotune and ultra-processing? Do his Oblique Strategies still hold up in today's world of music? 


Listening to his new album "Small Craft On a Milk Sea", the answer has to be yes, although it may not be a resounding affirmative. The album is carefully structured to recognize Eno's recent past, while pushing into new territories. His last album, "Another Day On Earth", harkened in many ways back to his first solo works, when his avuncular vocals were a major part of the equation. "Small Craft", though, returns to a purely instrumental approach. 


There are parts of the album that could be considered ambient, and other parts that are decidedly not. The record begins with several soft pieces, which are designed to do what ambient music does - remain part of the background, while still being musically challenging and rewarding to close listening. First track "Emerald and Lime" is a simple reverbed piano piece, "Complex Heaven" is an ominous and moody piece that hovers and dissipates. 


It's with the fourth track, "Flint March", that the mood changes. Led by a primitive and charging drumbeat, waves of synthesized sounds fly in and out of the tune. "Horse" continues to up the ante, reminding the listener of a black helicopter flying too close to the ground for comfort. 


"2 Forms Of Anger" serves as the centerpiece of this section of the album, starting with tension-laden gleeps, glops, and drumbeats, before bursting into a guitar based electric/electronic piece that actually sounds a bit like early Roxy Music. It's loud, it's exciting, and it's scary. 


From that, we go to "Bone Jump" (and Eno seems to have a fascination with bones and perhaps bone cancer that's been evident since the last album's "Bone Bomb"), which would serve as the ideal backing for a suspense film, or perhaps as a part of a Halloween mixtape. 


The helicopter chops return on "Dust Shuffle". "Paleosonic" is composed of oddly filtered drums and guitar bursts, all dropped into a blender. Here, he represents the best of the electronic pioneers of the past few years, showing them how it needs to be done. 


After the frenetic pace of the album's middle section, we're dropped back into ambient music with "Slow Ice, Old Moon", a futuristic landscape painting. Some themes are now returned to; "Lesser Heaven" is connected to the earlier "Complex Heaven" near the beginning of the record, and the reverbed piano of the opening track is repeated in "Emerald and Stone". 


The longest track is "Anthropocene", which sounds initially unchallenging and innocuous, but is subtle and mostly beautiful. We fade to "Invisible", featuring true ambient sounds of bird cries and market voices. Do you remember the music that soundtracked the galactic journey in "2001, a Space Odyssey"? This is an update of that.


This album is not an easy listen. It's not for the pop fan, or the heavy metal enthusiast. It IS for those who like a little challenge with their music, and who can appreciate subtle textures. 


Eno has spent years not worrying about what the public at large thinks of his solo work, and has continued to follow his own vision. In that time, he's created some timeless, amazing music. With this album, he progresses not to a new stage, but to a refinement of what he's done in the past, with occasional new tricks added in. 


This is not a transcendent album; many have matched and even surpassed him at his own game. It is a very good record, though, and one which deserves some attention. 


I give "Small Craft On a Milk Sea" an 8 on the England Swings scale of 1-10.
 


Comments

03/23/2012 22:29

will come back before long

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