INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Mojo DECEMBER 2010 - by David Sheppard
BRIAN ENO: SMALL CRAFT ON A MILK SEA
Cast adrift: inveterate musical landscaper and friends improvise fifteen "sound-only movies".
Brian Eno's 2007 appointment as Liberal Democrat "youth adviser" was widely greeted with amused incredulity; what price those raised eyebrows now as the erstwhile glam-rock synth mangler and favourer of glittery ladies' vestments finds himself a de facto adjunct of UK government? Easing himself into political clubbability has not dulled Eno's Herculean artistic libido. In the five years since his previous solo LP, Another Day On Earth, he's made an album with David Byrne (Everything That Happens Will Happen Today), a soundtrack for Peter Jackson's film The Lovely Bones, and sonics for the video game Spore, not to mention production, art installations, mobile phone apps and a myriad of diversions that have come to define the sexagenarian polymath.
The mature "youth adviser" is now berthed at the enduringly hip Warp, home to electronic mavericks like Aphex Twin and Autechre - artists who arguably picked up Eno's eccentric, synthetic baton in the early '90s. Yoked to the not altogether revolutionary concept of soundtracks for non-existent movies (one which his Music For Films first enshrined thirty-odd years ago), Eno's Warp debut mostly evokes his turn-of-the-'80s ambient period, with detours into the polyrhythmic intoxications that followed and, occasionally, the digital noodling that has been a questionable hallmark since the soi-distant "unwelcome jazz" of 1997's The Drop.
Abetted by guitarist Leo Abrahams and keyboardist Jon Hopkins, Small Craft On A Milk Sea owes its genesis to group improvisation, governed by some typically disorientating, aleatoric modi operandi (the musicians randomly selecting chords from a whiteboard list, etc). A collaborative effort it may be, but those are surely Eno's fingers teasing out the lovely, tremulous keyboard lines of Emerald And Lime and the wistful synth drones of Complex Heaven, both of which recall earlier, blissfully marooned Eno essays like Becalmed (Another Green World) or swathes of Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks. Almost as persuasive is the frenzied Flint March, all throbbing, fluttering percussion and onrushing synth billows that might be music from the chase sequence of a slick, contemporary sci-fi movie. Horse and 2 Forms Of Anger inject further percussive tumult. If Bone Jump seems overly pleased with its needling, jazz-mysterioso organ melody, the ensuing Slow Ice, Old Moon and Lesser Heaven settle into an immersive, ethereal drift. Breaking new musical ground is now of less interest to Eno than deftly sifting the fertile soil of yesteryear's terra incognito. Aficionados will hear a master ambient craftsman in his element.