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Brian Eno steps into darker shadows
on his latest electronic effort

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea
(Warp Records)
2 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Nov. 19, 2010
Brian Eno

Review by Tony Bonyata

Brian Eno is no stranger to the strange. The English composer, producer, musician, visual artist and music theorist helped usher in not only glam rock in the early '70s with Roxy Music, but would also go onto to create two of the most eccentric pop-rock records of the decade (Here Come The Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain, both from 1974).

Eno's most significant contribution to music, however, is his early forays into the world of the avant-garde. He helped pioneer the genres of, what he originally coined as, Ambient Music: a genre which has more to do with atmosphere, mood and a specific state-of-mind than the elements of what music is traditionally built on (i.e. melody, harmony, dynamics, etc.). Some of his early solo works into this field (including Another Green World, Discreet Music and Ambient 1: Music For Airports) helped pave the way for many more of his minimalist "sonic soundscapes" throughout the decades, as well as also immensely influencing artists such as David Bowie, Talking Heads, and practically every other musician, whether they realize it or not, that has dabbled in sampling, synth-driven electronica or (for better or worse) New Age music.

Eno has occasionally returned to a more traditional rock approach throughout the decades (his 1990 collaboration with former Velvet Underground member John Cale on Wrong Way Up, his own record Another Day On Earth from 2005 and, more recently, his thoroughly enjoyable reunion with Talking Heads' David Byrne on their 2008 effort Everything That Happens Will Happen Today), yet the 62-year old musician also consistently returns to the ambient side of things, which, with the help of Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams, he's done on his recently released album Small Craft On A Milk Sea.

Perhaps the biggest difference here from most of his previous instrumental work is that instead of evoking a sense of space, solitude and tranquility, many of the instrumental compositions are provoking, brooding and even downright menacing. Sure, there are lighter moments such as the airy opening track "Emerald And Lime" and much later its gentle cousin, the piano-kissed balladry of "Emerald And Stone," but the many darker numbers also present cast a much heavier shadow over the whole affair. "Flint March" plunders through with a goose-stepping rhythm and teeming synths that attack from nowhere like an unprovoked swarm of hornets. "Horse" is likewise filled with buzzing guitars, synths and percolating aggro-beats. "Paleosonic" finds Eno tapping into some of angular, African rhythms he and David Byrne explored earlier on their 1981 album My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, while the otherworldly "Slow Ice, Old Moon" is just downright creepy, evoking the eerie feel of the 1962 cult-classic horror film "Carnival Of Souls." Perhaps the album's 'darkest hour' though is the track "2 Forms of Anger," which opens with a bullying tribal beat and ghostly electronic howls, before erupting into an insane sonic meltdown that rhythmically taps directly into the "motorik" percussive beat of the late Klaus Dinger from the pioneering Krautrock band Neu!

While there's little doubt that the majority of Eno's Small Craft On A Milk Sea would work brilliantly as soundtrack music, overall it's just too dark, depressing and morose to fully enjoy on its own as an entire album.

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