Spectrum Culture NOVEMBER 2, 2010 - by Kyle Fowle


With a scattered yet consistent body of releases spanning four decades, Brian Eno, as both a producer and musician, is hardly a man who needs to prove himself anymore. His collection of ambient and experimental music in the '70s, as well as his collaborations with the likes of Harold Budd and John Cale, have cemented his status among the most elite and sought-after producers of all time. While Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his 2008 collaboration with David Byrne, brought with it a light and exuberant nostalgia, Small Craft On A Milk Sea is a dark and ominous record that sees the famed producer pushing the boundaries that he helped establish.

Before one even gets to the music on Small Craft On A Milk Sea, the line-up Eno has gathered for his 2010 release suggests a sea change in tone and nuance. Longtime collaborator guitarist Leo Abrahams has been brought in to complement the programmed sounds with a primitive live sound. Most interesting though is the commissioning of electronic musician Jon Hopkins, whose resume boasts associations with Four Tet, Coldplay and Massive Attack. The dub-step haze of Horse and industrial tinge of Paleosonic show Eno exploring the dirtier, grungier side of electronic production, arguably due to Hopkins youthful influence. Together, the three have created a mesmerising LP that is nothing short of a vivid, atmospheric experience.

Opening track Emerald And Lime is a gentle piano piece that quietly follows in the footsteps of Ambient 1: Music For Airports. The wandering reverb and echo convey images of still lakes and flowing streams, signifying the beginning of a voyage that will later be revisited with near-copycat Emerald And Stone. The real force of Small Craft On A Milk Sea is what falls in between these two gentle, misleading tracks; the heavy middle portion of the album uproots the comfortable stasis of the opening track, creating a narrative arc out of mere sonic landscapes.

After Complex Heaven and Small Craft On A Milk Sea finish the triple play of tension building, Flint March begins the catharsis. The whirling, hollow beats frantically dance around an eerie synth underscore and are punctuated by brooding bass drums that jump to the front of the mix during the ephemeral bridge. Horse follows suit with a jittery off-time beat and a heavy dose of feedback, eventually breaking into the intro of 2 Forms Of Anger, Small Craft On A Milk Sea's defining and most accomplished track. Heavy tribal drums build over menacing electronic tics, as Abrahams' fuzzed-out guitar seems poised to impose on the melody, only to be swallowed up by it in a moment of near-heavy metal. These three songs provide the core of Small Craft, and they are big, daunting and evocative tracks. Small Craft is hardly limited to these songs though; Slow Ice, Old Moon is a slow-burning ethereal affair, while eight-minute album closer Late Anthropocene provides a despondent and haunting conclusion, as each track seems to compliment one another.

Sure, there are some dull moments on Small Craft On A Milk Sea - Bone Jump sounding the most amateur and out of place here - but to dwell on them would be unfair. Instead, the focus should be on how Eno and company create such a narrative expanse. Much like creating a work of visual art, each brushstroke that Eno applies serves its own distinct purpose. Every murky synth beat and pounding drum serves to evoke a different feeling, and succeeds. There are moments on this record that will make you want to run in the snow; there are also moments that will make you want to slow-motion fight a tuxedoed Hugo Weaving on top of a tall building. With Small Craft On A Milk Sea, Brian Eno has created an electronic landscape filled with themes both universally applicable and strikingly personal; quite frankly, just another notch on the belt.