Vulturehound APRIL 11, 2020 - by Ryan Fine


The influential Eno brothers speak of each other with nothing but respect and admiration, but despite their familial ties, they haven't released any music together in almost forty years. Roger Eno is mostly known for being a pianist, while Brian has gained wide notoriety for his innovations in electronics and studio manipulation, but both are central figures in the development and popularity of ambient music.

Mixing Colours is not a pure ambient album - at least not according to the demarcation of Brian Eno himself when he coined the term in the liner notes of 1978's Music For Airports. It relies as much on melody as it does atmosphere and leans far too heavily into classical impressionist forms to truly be considered ignorable. It exists somewhere on the ambient spectrum, to be sure, but it's certainly at its most Debussy-esque outer boundary

The palette of colours chosen as track titles plays into the idyllic aesthetic, keeping mostly toward the cool end of the blues, greens, and greys. The visual-to-sonic translation doesn't seem to happen under any rigid process or formula, but tracks named for less saturated colors do tend to feel lighter and airier. Snow is a very slow and quaint piano piece with a fairy-like background drone reminiscent of Sigur Rós, while Burnt Umber lays a deep, dark foundation with a harsh metallic improvisation floating above it.

Mixing Colours is full of overwhelming calm and consonance, to the point where any flirtation with tension and release feels instantly jazzy. Such is the case on Quicksilver, one of the pieces on the album where Roger Eno's solo piano has been tampered with the least. But it's used to its greatest effect on Desert Sand, where a beautifully mysterious piano is frequently interrupted by an almost non-musical cluster of glitchy noise. The record rarely allows itself this level of experimentation or structural progression elsewhere.

As with any album over an hour, a certain amount of patience is necessary to digest the dozen-and-a-half pieces presented here. When they can be bunched into four or five categories, it's easy to start comparing in quality and wondering which ones really needed to be here. Two lovely back-to-back classical piano pieces - Blonde and Dark Sienna - make for a great pair, but when Iris comes to try a similar sound later on, it feels late to the party.

The meticulously placed trio of Spring Frost, Verdigris, and Cerulean Blue are all variations on the same theme used to lend structure to a mob of ideas, but because they all start with exactly the same sound file, it doesn't really do much to break up the monotony. It's a quick hint at an organization that feels like a last-second decision, and it would have benefited from either being fleshed out to a greater extent or discarded completely.

Still, despite a few architectural flaws and a minor identity crisis, Mixing Colours comes off as supremely smooth and enjoyable. Roger Eno is one of the most skilled composers still working in his style, and his brother has a keen ear for how much manipulation his works need to achieve their emotional peak. Together, they have created a formidable collection of musical paintings ripe for both exploration and meditation.