Record Collector JANUARY 2015 - by Paul Bowler


Nerve Net / The Shutov Assembly / Neroli/ The Drop / Fourth World Volume 1: Possible Musics

Lesser-known Eno reissued with a raft of extras.

It's a testament to the depth in quality of Brian Eno's vast body of work that there are lesser-known gems to be found for all but the most fervent of fans. This latest crop of reissues features several such unheralded jewels: the four Warp releases augmented with a second disc of rare and unreleased extras - an unexpected boon given that Brain One's predilection for the minimal has been as prevalent in his approach to reissues as it has in the music itself.

1992's Nerve Net was Eno's first album in five years, a time he spent honing his production skills for the likes of U2. Ostensibly a rock record, it's mish-mash of styles lacks clarity (see Fractal Zoom's dated breakbeats) and bears all the hallmarks of a man re-finding his musical feet. Every Eno albums has its highlights, though, and Distributed Being's winning mixture of rock and spiritual jazz piano pair with Web's Lalo Schifrin-esque spooky piano lines and distorted guitar refrains to save the album from mediocrity.

The big sell here is the inclusion of legendary lost album My Squelchy Life as an extra. Originally slated for a '91 release but pulled at the last minute, it's a strong work featuring earlier mixes of Nerve Net songs alongside previously unheard new material. The best of these, the Talking Heads-esque funk of I Fall Up and The Harness, a return to the sound of Eno's first solo albums, are potential classics.

Released later that same year, The Shutov Assemblybegan life as an ode to Russian artist and friend Sergei Shutov, who used to paint to Eno's music but had problems obtaining it under Soviet rule. Compiling unreleased work recorded 1985 and 1990, Eno found a cohesive body of work that gently shifts through ambient textures and moods, from the tranquil (Triennale) to the creepy (Alhondiga, Markgraph, Innocenti, Francisco) and the ethereal (Lanzarote). It's a minor masterpiece of understated ambient minimalism that's exemplified on the richly evocative Ikebukuro, which depicts a futuristic Japanese-inspired world with the sound of a swishing steel sword adding a harsh rhythmic note to its otherwise peaceful zen garden.

Named after the sensual oil derived from Seville oranges, 1993's Neroli took the form of one near-hour-long track and found Eno at his most overtly minimal. Formed from a single Phrygian mode melody that's subtly constructed and deconstructed throughout, it's a stylistic cousin to '85's better-known Thursday Afternoon, sharing that album's subtle beauty and capacity to illicit moods of relaxation and contemplation (it was subsequently used to soothing effect in maternal wards). Richly evocative, it's one of Eno's finest attempts at pure ambient mood and is accompanied on this reissue by New Space Music, an hour-long drone similar, though less focused and effective, form.

Four years later and Eno attempted to forge a new musical path on The Drop, which he described as "an interpretation of jazz from a vague, alien perspective". Its fleeting sub-three-minute ambient vignettes lack any commonality, while the likes of Dear World seem content to ape Underworld's contemporaneous vocal dub wanderings. Best by far is the one extended track: Iced World pairs Music For Airports-esque minimal piano with polyrhythmic techno beats, and, at eighteen minutes, gives Eno the opportunity to develop its themes.

More successfully pathfinding was Eno's 1980 collaboration with trumpeter Jon Hassell, which has been reissued by the ever-excellent world-music label Glitterbeat. Though billed as a joint project, it's the vaguely Indian wail of Hassell's heavily processed trumpet that dominates, driving a beguiling set of ambient grooved and rhythms steeped in exoticism and "world music" tropes - exemplified by opener Chemistry and Ba-Benzélé. It's a profound musical statement that would open the door for Hassell to work with David Sylvian, while acting as a catalyst for Eno. Within ten days the latter was back in the studio exploring similar terrain with David Byrne on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts.