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29 December 2010

Brian Eno: Small Craft On a Milk Sea (Warp)

When music legend Brian Eno announced a new album on Warp, fans and geeks worldwide took notice. My curiosity was certainly piqued… Eno’s career has included massively influential albums in rock music, ambient sound, and all areas in between. I was excited about the likelihood of a Warp record focusing more on electronics, and was even more excited about it when I realized this would be an entirely instrumental album. Eno’s capable of writing good pop songs as much as other performers, but his strength lies in sound design, dynamics and instrumental craft. What I did not realize until listening to the album is that this album owes as much to Eno’s collaborators Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams, as all three composed every piece on the album. The track that made the internet rounds prior to its release was “2 Forms of Anger,” a rousing rocker of a track, with full guitar tracks, percussion and a clattering attitude. Those who checked it out ought not to be led astray by that one, though, because this is not a rock album. In fact, it’s not really any genre in particular actually, but it’s damn good start to finish. The album really is a journey, with a definite beginning, middle and end. The first couple of tracks start quiet, with that delicate, ambient touch that Eno is so revered for. But it doesn’t take long for Eno to snap you out of it, reminding you that he’s not content to meander within one sound for very long like he used to. When “Flint March” kicks into a higher gear, the first thing you’re startled by is the marvelous clarity of sound. It’s impeccably engineered, not a single sound out of place, and the frequency range is bright, deep and vibrant. It suggest something slightly more sinister, too, with its urgent galloping percussion and soaring electronics. This crescendo continues through the next couple of tracks, before “Bone Jump” brings it back down with a wandering lead and bassline combo. In this much it vaguely recalls moments of Isotope 217 or Tortoise, but it’s a fleeting comparison to be sure. By the time Eno brings us to “Slow Ice, Low Moon,” his flirtations with more rousing and abrasive sounds wane and we glide through a beatless closing act consisting of six more ambient pieces. They are still quite labored and detailed, however — there is a lot of elegance in the tiniest details of these tracks. Each of these more ambient tracks brims with tension and cinematic drama, meaning that despite its beatlessness, the final third of this album is not merely an epilogue. That task is left to “Late Anthropocene,” the longest track of the album, closing it out with a lovely melancholic grace. Eno has selected his collaborators well here, and found an appropriate home in Warp releasing it. It’s a supremely solid album from start to finish, a healthy reminder that he’s earned his reputation and continues to deliver on it.

Watch/listen: Flint March

Buy it: iTunes | Bleep | Amazon | Boomkat | Bent Crayon

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