"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Under The Radar NOVEMBER 5, 2010 - by Hays Davis
BRIAN ENO: SMALL CRAFT ON A MILK SEA
After so many years of aural lab work, it's easy to imagine Brian Eno settling into his familiar work spot and thinking, "What now?" Small Craft On A Milk Sea seems a likely record for this stage of Eno's career: a set of instrumental studies exploring a varied group of settings and directions that display the breadth of his craft. Not surprisingly, some tracks touch directly on some of his early work, but anyone who can put together a full-length release after nearly forty years of recording and only occasionally be self-referential deserves a tip of the hat.
Some of Eno's most fiercely vibrant work appears here. Horse, one of the album's most experimental tracks, lurches along like Throbbing Gristle reborn for the 2010s as a menacing man-machine. Opening with a deep, sustained rumble sprinkled with electronic shards, as though he had set up shop in a factory basement, 2 Forms Of Anger eventually bursts open with piercing guitars that ride the track to its close.
One could easily imagine Eno's sometime collaborator David Byrne stepping in for a vocal turn on Dust Shuffle, in which the rhythmic pulse updates his fingerprint left on Talking Heads' Remain In Light. Among the album's quieter moments, Complex Heaven calls to mind the muted piano of 1980's Ambient 2: The Plateaux Of Mirror, though here the treated notes sound miles deep and wide.
While most of the album is at least somewhat experimental in nature, Eno includes some reminders that he could probably compose a soundtrack for the afterlife if he felt the calling. Emerald And Lime is one of the album's simplest, most warmly inviting tracks, with bass and sustained piano notes following a drifting harmonica, while Lesser Heaven plays out like a soundtrack to the changing hues of a sunset.