INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
New York Times NOVEMBER 1, 2010 - by Jon Pareles
BRIAN ENO: SMALL CRAFT ON A MILK SEA
With Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams.
Brian Eno's new instrumental album, Small Craft On A Milk Sea, begins with a decoy: Emerald And Lime, a stately piece that despite its synthetic keyboards, has a quasi-classical composure. Ah, Mr. Eno's longtime listeners might think, it's a return to the self-effacing ambient music he began making in the late 1970s, and this is another album to put on inconspicuously, infusing a room with resonance and subdued disquiet. Hardly. That introductory track is like a bucolic establishing shot in a thriller, showing an Eden that awaits deep dread.
It arrives as the album unfolds, first with foreboding guitar lines in uneven, subliminally unsettling meters, then with percussive drive and growling, skulking bass, then with implacable distortion and, in 2 Forms Of Anger, a burst of no-wave rock soon followed, in Paleosonic, by brawling, mutating funk.
The turmoil abates in the barely moving Slow Ice, Old Moon and the bell-toned Lesser Heaven and Calcium Needles. But anxiety lurks beneath the surface. By the time an even gentler variation of the opening track arrives, called Emerald And Stone, it's no comfort, and neither are two nearly motionless postscripts that play out like desolate elegies.
Mr. Eno produced Small Craft On A Milk Sea from studio improvisations he shared with the electronica musician Jon Hopkins and the guitarist Leo Abrahams, blending their musicianly interactions with the impersonal, repetitive processes of loops and beats and blurring any distinction between human and mechanised. Some of the sounds - lustrous keyboards, muttering bass lines - have long been part of Mr. Eno's vocabulary; others, like certain raucous drumbeats, hint at Mr. Hopkins's experience as a dance-club D.J.
Above all the album extends Mr. Eno's long and downright scientific fascination with backgrounds. He has long praised the reticent, open-ended nature of soundtrack music; Small Craft On A Milk Sea would have been a superb film score if there were a movie attached.
Yet Mr. Eno also examines music not only as background to images or imagination but also as background to itself. His productions, for himself and others, are marvellously particular about low-volume sounds, away from the foreground of the mix, that can go nearly unnoticed but transform the music. In Late Anthropocene on this album a flickering note worries at the track like a lone mosquito in a perfect parlour, while in the album's title track a nearly continuous ping way above the guitar stays endlessly discordant. These elements are as much psychological stimuli as musical ones, quietly recalibrating moods. Without a word the album establishes a telling dramatic arc.