Wave Maker JANUARY 2, 2013 - by Ryan Smith


Friends, the task of preparing a review for the great Brian Eno's latest effort, Lux, is both a daunting task and an extreme pleasure for this particular astral traveller. It is difficult because it is an ambient work and is therefore designed to blend into the background and to stand out only enough to be memorable to the listener's emotional centre; it is exciting because I get to spend the next little bit taking you on a tour of that pretty little sector of prog space designated 'minimalism'.

Eno started out in the early seventies as an unconventional member of conventional glam rock band Roxy Music. His initial role was not one of 'actual performance,' but rather he used sound filtering devices such as the VCS3 to alter the band's sound during live and studio performances. Genesis fans will have heard his manipulations on their 1974 double disc The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Conflicts with band leader Bryan Ferry and with conventional rock music equated to a short time spent with Roxy Music, only appearing on their first two albums.

Both released late in 1973, Brian Eno's first steps into solo country couldn't have contrasted each other more. His debut solo album, Here Come The Warm Jets, features an upbeat pop rock sound with quirky eccentric lyrics a la Syd Barrett and was not really much of a departure from his work with Roxy Music. His collaborative project with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp however, (No Pussyfooting), was filled with minimalist drone compositions that most people have a hard time wrapping their heads around. Members of King Crimson even urged Fripp not to release the album. It seems even among forward-thinkers there are sometimes disbelievers.

Eno released a second album of eccentric pop rock the following year before releasing what some call his masterwork, Another Green World. This record featured fourteen tracks, roughly a third of which feature more focused pop rock tunes with appearances by The Velvet Underground's John Cale (himself no stranger to minimalism, having worked with genre pioneer La Monte Young) and Genesis' Phil Collins. The remainder of the album found the artist exploring far more experimental instrumental planes. Mere months later, Eno released Discreet Music, his first entirely ambient solo album and a landmark in that genre.

Now, a little bit of background on minimalism. Although aspects of the style had been used for ages in tribal and cultural music (especially in Indian classical music), American composer La Monte Young is mostly responsible for developing it into a modern genre. Like any genre, the sound and approach to minimalist music can vary from artist to artist, but for the most part the idea is simple: to create music that uses a minimal amount of notes and/or 'fireworks' (hooks and things that grab the listener's attention) to subconsciously provoke an emotional response in the listener. Most minimalist artists make use of drones (repetitive musical movements that slowly develop, sometimes changing). Eno himself coined his own style as 'ambient music'. The goal, like instrumentation and approach, changes from artist to artist, but it is generally not far off from Eno's: to create music that stands out enough to be memorable, but not enough to step out from the background. On a personal note, as a musician, I am one of this style's adherents.

Brian Eno followed up Discreet Music with the superb 1977 album Before And After Science, which is structurally a lot like Another Green World but is far stronger in my opinion. One can clearly hear that the artist's focus was shifting from conventional rock to subtle ambient soundscapes. This brings us to the 1978 album Ambient 1: Music For Airports. This exceptional display of minimalist composition marks the sloughing off of the conventional elements (until 2005's Another Day On Earth) and the beginning of a career for Eno as an ambient artist.

And so I hope you will forgive me if the actual time spent discussing Brian Eno's brand new release Lux is decidedly short. Now that the background has been defined, you'll understand that none of the album's five tracks really stand out enough to be broken down, and that I really have no desire to break down such a masterpiece. There really are only a few things that can be said about the album. Firstly, I would mention that this record is very close in sound and in spirit to Ambient 1: Music For Airports, but features an even more pristine modern sound. That's not to say that it lacks the warmth of his earlier analog work. This time round, Eno's beautiful synthesizer work is augmented by the wonderful moog guitar of Leo Abrahams (a previous Eno collaborator who has worked with Imogen Heap), and the violin/viola of Nell Catchpole. And the very subtle album packaging is quite lovely.

The bottom line is I can't present you with any standouts from an album where absolutely every texture is positively gorgeous. If you love this sort of thing, you'll bloody love this album. If you're bored to death by this kind of stuff, you'll dislike it tremendously. The only thing I feel I need to say from here is that Brian Eno's Lux represents the best possible showcase of this particular style of music. It is a brilliantly subtle masterpiece that, as a devout admirer myself, I can guarantee fans will not find disappointing.