Recent Brian Eno

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, October 23, 2017 05:59pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

When I was a kid I always used to hear this kind of perfect music in my head that I could never find in reality. It was this kind of gentle formless music of the spheres that didn’t have traditional drums and bass, and just kind of drifted in a timeless space. Sometimes I’d hear elements of it in Beatles songs or in musical passages by psychedelic bands. But it wasn’t until I heard a couple of tracks on Brian Eno’s Music For Airports that I finally heard something that matched what I heard in my head. Critics eventually named this music Ambient Music and I’ve been a huge Eno fan ever since I first heard those tracks.

If you’re a Brian Eno fan, the past few years have been golden. Ever since 2005’s Another Day On Earth, he’s been on a roll and has provided his fans with a steady output of material in various styles. Another Day itself was the first vocal album he’d done in years and it has a few of the best vocal tracks of his career on it. “This” and the title track are as good as any vocal song he’s ever written, and the classical music break in the middle of “How Many Worlds” may be one of the most sublime passages of music in his entire catalog.

In 2006 he released 77 Million Paintings, a generative software program. When you install it on your computer it randomly combines sounds and images so that your computer will endlessly create ambient music that never repeats accompanied by a music video that endlessly changes. If you run it through your widescreen TV you can turn your living room into a Brian Eno art installation that constantly evolves into endlessly trippy soothing vistas.

In 2008 he teamed up with his old partner in crime David Byrne to create Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. In my opinion this pair created some of the best music of the past century and this was kind of a chance for them to cash in. They produced the album themselves, released it on their own label, and sold the CDs exclusively through their own website. There was no record company or distributor, every penny from the project went directly into their own pockets. For the following year, David Byrne played the album on a solo world tour devoted to music he had created with Eno. The tour was one of the most financially successful of that year. The album itself is a nice piece of work. Eno created all the music while Byrne wrote all the vocals. It’s not as good as their work on the Talking Heads albums but it still has it’s moments. On tunes like “Home” and “Feel My Stuff” there is a lush, almost orchestral production that also includes some fascinating uses of experimental sounds. It’s almost like crossing Brian Wilson with King Crimson. It’s the kind of advanced big production one expects from two old pros at the top of their game. I have to admit I got a lot of joy from this album just hearing the two of them sing together for the first time in so many years. I’ve always loved Eno’s voice. It’s one of his best instruments and he doesn’t use it nearly enough. When he harmonizes on a chorus, it’s just sublime.

2010’s Small Craft On A Milk Sea is kind of a modern Eno instrumental masterwork. It combines mellowBrian Eno, Small Craft on a Milk Sea ambient pieces with more up tempo experimental “rock” pieces. This album incorporates and personifies many of the major ideas and sounds Eno has been working on the past decade and is probably the best single example of his recent work. It’s highly experimental without ever sounding grating. The album ends with a long serene minimalist piece called “Late Anthropocene” that’s just slightly too complex to call ambient.

In 2011 he released a spoken word album called Drums Between The Bells, which was later followed by another album called Panic Of Looking. On both of these releases Eno provides instrumental backing tracks to poems written by Rick Holland. The short instrumental pieces on these harken back to his Music For Films albums. In fact, Eno could have called these albums Music For Poems. Holland’s poems are non-narrative and abstract in nature, which makes them a good Brian Eno, Panic of Lookingpairing for Eno’s abstract music. I own a lot of spoken word albums and these are some of my favorites. The combination of music and words is kind of like a sonic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

Lux from 2012 is one of my favorite Eno albums. It is four long tracks spread across 75 minutes. It was originally an art installation piece and there is a palpable space to the album. Lazy piano notes slowly reverberate in a huge cavernous space while synthesizer tones dull their edges with soothing drones. A guitar, violin, or viola might bleed in here or there only to slowly fade away again. It’s all quite tranquil and relaxed, and it has that effect on you. While it is too complicated in structure to exactly be described as an ambient album, it definitely has that feel.

In 2014 Eno released two albums that documented an extremely fruitful collaboration with Karl Hyde. Both are vocal albums that adhere to fairly traditional song structures. The first album, Someday World, is more poppy and highlights sing along melodies. The second album, High Life, almost feels like extra tracks from the sessions but it’s still quite good. There are great songs on these albums and they feel like a spiritual return to Here Come The Warm Jets and the other early vocal albums that first put Eno on the map.

Eno keeps exploring his ambient and spoken word ideas on 2015’s The Ship. The album starts with a long slow almost ambient piece that incorporates languorous vocals that are spoken more than sung. It’s over twenty minutes long and drifts by like gentle waves on a calm sea. The rest of the album is in the same vein. Soft electronic soundscapes soothe the mind and soul. Eno’s voice acts as just another calming instrument. This would be a great album to listen to while you were drifting off to sleep. The album ends with a spoken word piece and a cover of Lou Reed’s “I’m Set Free,” which is the album’s only nod to traditional pop music.

Eno’s most recent album of new material, Reflection, is one of his ambient masterpieces. Gentle Brian Eno, Reflectionsynthesizer tones evolve and reverberate in a shimmering lazy fashion. There are no drums, chords or traditional song structures. The album is one track that is nearly an hour long and the whole thing is one unhurried, constantly-shifting beautiful soundscape. It reminds you of ripples expanding on the surface of a still pond and is one of the best pieces of ambient music Eno has ever recorded.

I should point out that this article doesn’t even cover everything Eno’s done in the past decade or so. I haven’t even covered every album he did, I haven’t talked about the many collaborations and appearances he’s had on other musicians albums, the many articles he’s written, the public appearances and speaking engagements, the introductions to books and CDs, the art installations, or the political work he’s done. Eno is a busy, prolific guy. But he’s left behind some great soothing music that the rest of us can relax to.

Also check out Brian Eno Half Speed Vinyl Remasters.

Relevant Tags

Rick Holland (1), David Byrne (11), Ambient Music (2), Brian Eno (20), Jon Longhi (33), Karl Hyde (2), Ambient (4)