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MP3 Discussion Group: Brian Eno’s ‘Small Craft on a Milk Sea’

Following a brief hiatus, the Disquiet.com MP3 Discussion Group returns with its first full-length-recording consideration since pondering the reissue of Thomas Köner’s glacial Permafrost, back in August. This time around, we’re deep in the varied chambers of Brian Eno‘s first ever album for Warp Records, Small Craft on a Milk Sea, which is also credited to guitarist Leo Abrahams and to electronic musician Jon Hopkins.

Participating with me in this week’s MP3 Discussion Group are:

Alan Lockett: “I write music reviews and commentary on ambient/drone, the more adventurous end of techno/house, post-dub, and IDM. Based in Bristol, epicentre of the Dub-zone in the Wild West of England, I can mainly be read on igloomag.com and furthernoise.org.”

Julian Lewis: “I write much of Lend Me Your Ears, a UK/Spain-based MP3 blog that appreciates less obvious music.”

Joshua Maremont: “I record as Thermal and pursue my musical and other obsessions in San Francisco.”

Evan Shamoon: “I write about video games for various publications (EGM, PlayStation magazine), and music technology for some others (XLR8R magazine, Switched.com). I also make electronic music as giantmecha, 99.9% of which sits on my hard drive.”

And I’m Marc Weidenbaum; I have run disquiet.com since 1996, and have written for Nature, Down Beat, newmusicbox.org, and other publications; I live in San Francisco.

The conversation will play out in this post’s comments section.

A little note on the MP3 Discussion Group format: This is by no means a closed conversation, so do feel free to join in. The initial posts by participants were all written before they had an opportunity to see each other’s take on the release in question, but after that it’s intended to play out in real time.

More on Brian Eno at brian-eno.net and the Small Craft album at warp.net.

By Marc Weidenbaum

/ Comments: 18 ]

18 Comments

  1. Julian Lewis
    [ Posted November 9, 2010, at 10:16 pm ]

    The consensus around late Eno isn’t generous. People love & revere the old boy, of course – so clever, so inspiring, so decent (yet rarely sanctimonious), often so funny, so, well, Eno…

    But after a bit of due genuflection in the direction of his extraordinary achievements (solo, collaboratively & in Roxy Music, his landmarks in each of these categories looming over almost any comparables) & some acknowledgement of his remarkably sustained appetite for the new (his generative Koan-ism, his iPhone apps, his reinvention of bell-ringing even…) people are usually briskly dismissive of his more recent output – sometimes using a fret over his unabashed cash-cowing with U2 as covering fire, or changing the subject to ravishing visual art like his ’77 Million Paintings’ installation/DVD.

    I’ve never felt that way. ‘Drawn From Life’ & ‘Another Day On Earth’ still rank as two of my favourite pop (post-pop?) records of the last decade, for example. Between them they contain at least seven tracks that – to these ears – manage to stand up to their oppressively illustrious predecessors without embarrassment.

    But you couldn’t say that of ‘The Drop’ or ‘Nerve Net’, I acknowledge (NN’s lovely ‘The Roil, The Choke’ notwithstanding). Regrettably, nor could you of ‘Small Craft’. Not as a musical achievement, anyway – as a piece of marketing & of collector porn, it’s clearly a masterpiece, especially its sumptuous physical editions.

    But nine tracks in, & the leaden ‘Paleosonic’ has me wondering if anything I’ve yet heard will stay with me. If, indeed, I’d still be bothering if it weren’t Eno?

    Naturally, there are felicities from time to time. But on a first couple of listens they are desperately few. Overall, this seems like music with almost no sense of the rest of the musical world around it – music apparently ignorant of both Tony Allen & Steve Reich, whom Eno once named (to hold him to something probably less a manifesto & more a witticism) as his twin sonic gods.

    Its sheen seems clumsy, mis-placed – & archaic in being wholly untouched by recent-ish innovations like drone or dubstep (in a way that ‘Another Day’ & ‘Drawn’ never have, though neither is directly influenced by either, of course). Strikingly, it sounds out of date.

    The day Warp unveiled a stream of the clunking ‘2 Forms of Anger’ to announce ‘Small Craft’, Thrill Jockey launched Koen Holtkamp’s faintly Cluster-ish ‘Gravity/Bees’. Nothing in the full ‘Small Craft’ album (or the limited editions’ four bonus tracks, I suspect) makes me second-guess my view then that Holtkamp’s beguiling, warm, palette-expanding experimentalism is a better model – but many others would also serve, just not ‘SC’ – of the sort of music that I’d like to be hearing from Eno now…

  2. Alan Lockett
    [ Posted November 9, 2010, at 10:17 pm ]

    In the short period I’ve been listening to Small Craft on a Milk Sea (hereinafter SCoaMS) I’ve read a few critical reviews (surprisingly few, though), but it wasn’t until I read Ian Penman’s thoroughgoing dismissal of it in The Wire (latest ish – just landed) that I saw a piece that nails both what is wrong with it, and why one might reasonably go on about it. The latter, the right to/rightfulness of critique, is related to it’s being written by someone who is a familiar – an enthusiast rather than a latecoming detractor, a fan, an Understander of Eno and the value of what he did in a period when his best work was done (the years 1972-1982 are mentioned).

    So, I’ll venture first that what strikes about SCoaMS as the act of listening to it progresses – a strangely self-conscious experience in itself, I have to say (a bit like going to church with your Mum after years of abstinence, more out of an outworn sense of duty than real feeling) – is not so much how bad it is but how dull, how undistinguished it is; how very plain. I borrow the word ‘dull’ from Penman’s pen, as I realized that this very simple descriptor is the best summary of it, or rather my perception of it. It occurs after the first few tracks have drifted by uneventfully – not entirely ignorably, but not in any way interestingly, other than for one’s own reactions to its uninterestingness – that the gestures of previous albums are perceptible, but how lacking in any real atmosphere or mystery they are, and how plain the textures of the instruments.

    And it’s empty. But not interestingly so. Blank Brian. No feeling. No evocation. I mean, his music was never really about emotion, but some of his pieces (esp. “An Ending (Ascent)” from Apollo) could move you in strange ways, or to strange places (in both – at least – senses). But most of SCoaMS reels past in mute musical pleasantry – botoxed forehead plastic (non-)ambient, inexpressive of anything, even the slightly eerie ambiguity of things like Music for Airports or the suggestive emptiness of such as On Land.

    I thought, well, I haven’t listened to anything new by Eno that I liked since The Pearl (1984) (a more than decent set, admittedly, but more a Harold Budd than an Eno album for all that his involvement in process/production are crucial in its sound). But then I realized there was Thursday Afternoon (1985), and Neroli (1993), and these two too still had about them a certain something – an indefinable element that made the overall transcend their fairly simple uneventful parts. Ultimately, SCoaMS possesses none of this transcendental (not meant in any ‘spiritual’ sense) aspect that characterises the Best of Ambient; if anything, the opposite occurs on this album: a sort of dragging down of the overall because of the failure of its parts – over-active and timbrally altered, but somehow, I don’t know… artless – to sum up to anything.

    At the end of listening (ooh, The End of Listening – sounds like a good title for a hyped up thinkpiece), I ask myself, as I often do when I don’t ‘get it’, whatever a given ‘it’ might be: Am I missing something? Is it that ‘it’s not you, it’s me’? Or is it that the it is crucially not there, whilst in earlier work a certain artful not-thereness was itself the thing?

    (Oh, and lest we ignore the rather nasty techno-y and thrash-rocky bits that take up most of the centrepiece of the album (I wish we could!), they made an even worse impression (I say ‘impression’, as I haven’t been back to them since the first listen) – a bit like revisiting the Brian Eno Goes Ambient-Techno-Rock of the farrago that was Nerve Net. Jeez, have I finished yet?)

  3. Evan Shamoon
    [ Posted November 9, 2010, at 10:17 pm ]

    This album is confirming something I have felt for a long time: That I far prefer Eno’s ambient work to his more aggressive/atonal stuff. Not necessarily because it’s more enjoyable — tracks like Slow Ice, Old Moon and Calcium Needles are pretty damn unsettling — but because I find it to be more thoughtful and rewarding music. I love the quieter tracks on this album, particularly the first and last three, and have considered making a playlist to avoid the cacophonous middle of the album. Maybe some headphone listening will change my thoughts on this, but probably not.

  4. Joshua Maremont
    [ Posted November 9, 2010, at 10:17 pm ]

    My guess is that none of us contemplates the prospect of a new album by Brian Eno without considerable emotional baggage, so I will begin by opening my own. In which, with determined digging, one would find David Bowie’s Low. For it was on Low, as it had been in Roxie Music and would soon be in Ultravox! and Talking Heads, that Eno’s Enoness was most convincingly demonstrated for me. Certainly there were Eno turns of melody and of voice as there were Eno approaches to texture and atmosphere, but Eno also worked as a filter, through which his collaborators discovered unknown aspects of themselves and were connected with distant and unexpected musical kin; unlike other producers of the era, for example Martin Hannett or Steve Lillywhite, Eno did not so much paint other groups with The Eno Sound as elicit from each something only that group could do. Bowie made three of his most ground-breaking and most electronic albums with Eno, Ultravox! began its journey krautward with his guidance, Talking Heads got funked up and experimental while he beat the drum, and he cast Cluster in the unlikely mold of a backing band for one of his greatest pop songs; even U2 later found stillness at the center of the stadium with him at the desk. And of course digging further there will be On Land and Apollo, two of the first works of musical ambiance I heard and even now, decades later, two of the most enduring and influential electronic records of their generation. Yet I am looking far back to the 1970s and early 1980s for these peaks, although as late as 1992 there were the wonders of The Shutov Assembly, including the soundtrack to his Latest Flames installation, in which I was lucky enough to be immersed during its tenure in SF. While Eno has remained one of the most interesting and eloquent characters in the music industry, his later albums are a bit of a blur for me, while I return constantly to Music For Films and The Belldog. I was expecting little, then, from a new album, even if its release by Warp left me slightly curious.

    What I was not expecting was Emerald And Lime, in which we might well be back in the 1970s on Music For Films or Low, as the whole history of music made in the shadows of those records – Gary Numan, Magazine, Ultravox, and more recently Porn Sword Tobacco – unspools toward the present, while Roedelius makes tea in the next room. Moreover, the crude flat digital sounds heard in Eno’s more recent music are nowhere to be heard here, and it almost seems that this opening track has been mixed to sound as if recovered from an old reel of magnetic tape from the 1970s, an archaeological forgery of sorts. And on Complex Heaven, with the exception of the acoustic guitar, we could be back in one of On Land’s foggy pondscapes, the textural detail and atmospheric depth here surpassing most of what I have heard from Eno in the last two decades. Even with its more insistent guitar, the title track persists in its exploration of place, the slight increase in dramatic tension doing little to prepare for the rhythmic onslaught of the next three tracks, and it is in these that one of Eno’s collaborators makes himself unmistakably known. For with Flint March and Horse, Jon Hopkins’ dense percussion and intricate layering allow Eno to indulge in some of his most entrancing beat music since My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts while escaping the digital sterility of similar attempts on Nerve Net. 2 Forms Of Anger is cathartic in a way I am not sure I have heard on one of Eno’s own albums, as if he has taken a lesson or two in dynamics and drama from his rock band clients, and the tension and release of this track makes it a clear peak on this album. Down from which we find the odd ambient funk of The Drop revisited in Bone Jump, a surprisingly turn down IDM’s memory lane in Dust Shuffle, and even a bit of early 1980s electronic art rock in Paleosonic, before the album trails off into more of the ambiance heard at its opening, the colder realms familiar from Apollo (Side 1) and The Shutov Assembly now darkening the more organic settings and melancholic melodies recalled from On Land and Music For Films. Yet Leo Abrahams’ guitar and Jon Hopkins’ electronics shake off the nostalgic longing of these tracks, while the long Late Anthropocene offers one of Eno’s most rewarding ambient tracks in well over a decade.

    The problem of course is that I cannot simply listen to this album and evaluate it as I would a new record, and perhaps that is unfair. For Small Craft is quite a good record, and even if at many points it reminds of others of Brian Eno’s records, it manages the difficult trick of not paling in comparison, while its collaborators have added new sounds and goaded Eno into making one not only some of his best tracks but also one of his most coherent albums in many years. Can anything here breathe the thin air at the heights of Stars or The Lost Day? Perhaps not, but in a world in which whole labels (Hic Sunt Leones and Faraway Press come to mind) might not exist but for such tracks, Eno need only remind us that his name is on the keystone.

  5. [ Posted November 9, 2010, at 10:23 pm ]

    This is easily my favorite solo Brian Eno record in 25 years, though that might not necessarily be saying much. Thursday Afternoon was released toward the end of 1985, and since then we’ve had occasional ventures into a variety of modes, most of them — despite some surprise at the visceral nature of the new Small Craft — upbeat and vibrant, or at least attempting at vibrancy, in particular Nerve Net. Since Thursday Afternoon, though, only one record released by Brian Eno under his own name (his own flag, as it were) has truly with me, January 07003: Bell Studies for the Clock of the Long Now, his 2003 venture into bell theory, forecast thinking, and algorithmic composition.

    Small Craft is very much as others have described it: two types of songs, some quiet, some busy, all instrumental. What people make of either is perhaps as much a matter of taste as anything else. In my ears, the visceral stuff seems harder to pin down, and therefore more interesting, though with one caveat, which is that throughout the album the guitar often sounds almost like it was added on later, so separate is it in the mix. This is distracting, and keeps those active tracks from attaining what, say, the Feelies can do on a good day.

    This may be my favorite Brian Eno record in two and a half decades, but to focus on that specific category is to miss so much of what Eno has excelled at in that time — yes, his production work, but in particular his work in music applications. I’ll be especially interested to hear how people think Small Craft sizes up relative to Bloom, the iOS app, for example — even more than next to his last solo venture, 2005’s Another Day on Earth.

  6. [ Posted November 10, 2010, at 7:27 am ]

    Hey guys. This is great. I’ve not listened to the album in question yet so I’ve nothing to say about it. But I’m really interested in the question, posed here as well as other reviews of Small Craft, “would we care about or even listen to this if it weren’t Eno?” and that thought has crossed my mind with several releases over the last number of years. I’m especially thinking of the last couple of Autechre albums, but many others could fit here as well. I’m really curious how that affects one’s listening to this. thanks Brian

    • [ Posted November 10, 2010, at 2:12 pm ]

      It is an interesting question. I’d say that if the album were by someone new, someone without Eno’s many decades behind them, I’d be potentially more interested. For someone without Eno’s accomplishments, there’s a lot here that would hint at significant potential. I’d like to see where the rhythmic work would take them. Instead here it feels like an event, on occasion, an temporary estuary, rather than the crux of someone’s burgeoning musical self-exploration.

      A related question I’d pose is whether so many people would “care about or even listen to this” if it were on a different label.

      It’s only been five years since Another Day on Earth. Has Eno’s reputation so changed, so expanded, in the past half decade that this record is receiving the sort of broad coverage that it is, coverage far more pervasive and effusive than that for Another Day on Earth? I’m not sure it’s because it’s on Warp, because it’s not like Warp automatically translates into massive coverage for its regular artists (not exactly buried in Squarepusher coverage right now, are we?). I think it’s the combination of Warp and Eno, what it means for an artist of his stature to go over to a label that didn’t even exist until long after he had established himself as an artist. Reminds me of the legends who have signed with Anti- Records: Tom Waits, Merle Haggard, and Daniel Lanois, to name a few.

  7. [ Posted November 10, 2010, at 2:22 pm ]

    For my part, I’d respond to the above that if this recording had been by a no-name artist, it would have been swiftly consigned to an iTunes limbo from which it would likely never have been re-emerged. Further to a detail of Joshua’s post, perhaps on SCoaMS Eno has expertly worked as a filter to channel some hitherto unexpressed aspects of Jon Hopkin’s and Leo Abrahams’ Muses, giving voice to something that would otherwise have lain dormant. Whether the outcome of this is worthy of much attention is a moot point. Regrettably, this transformative shuttle does not seem to have gone the other way. One might go on to posit that JH and LA are merely highly competent journeymen, whereas on Apollo Eno had collaborators (Daniel Lanois, Roger Eno) who were more than glorified session musicians, and able to bring out something more in Our Bri; and on On Land, likewise, his muso-colluders possibly had more galvanic heft to be able to elicit something more. Dunno. Thinkaloud reactive stuff.

    Final thought: at this august stage in his musical trajectory, is there anyone else who might get the best out of Brian, or might we not reasonably conclude that the best of Brian has by now long ago been got out?

    • [ Posted November 10, 2010, at 4:18 pm ]

      Perhaps the deeply unobvious pairing of Ben Frost & Eno (who chose Frost for a kind of wizard’s apprentice deal recently) will yield new ‘bests’ (from both, for that matter)? Frost’s intensity & appetite for texture would go a long way to, er, buoy up ‘Small Craft’ – by roughing it up, de-homogenising its unengagingly bland tastefulness…

      But so too would more of the kind of loose-limbed, spacious vamping at work in the alternative ‘SC’ of the trio’s ‘Seven Sessions on a Milk Sea’ (http://brian-eno.net/seven-sessions/) – or at least the first couple of them now shared, especially the blue-tinged, kraut-ish ‘Signal Success’ but also the yellowed ‘Instant Nuclear Family’.

      See http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/08/here-he-comes-the-improvisational-music-of-brian-eno/ (though you might have more luck at http://video.nytimes.com/video/2010/11/08/arts/1248069303031/brian-eno-seven-sessions-on-a-milk-sea.html?scp=1&sq=brian%20eno&st=cse) & http://ro69.jp/feat/brianeno201011

      Five more, each colour-coded (turquoise, red, green & what look like lime & brown, since you ask…) to follow over the next five weeks (!) in the next phase of the ‘product’s marketing – the relentlessly text book manner for 2010 of which (the to die for special editions, the streaming, the slow strip tease of its disrobing launch) may well answer Marc’s question about the breadth of its coverage.

      Another Day’ had its little micro-site. But the scale & ambition of ‘Small Craft’s marketing (clearly very informed by the experience of Byrne & Eno’s ‘Everything That Happens’) is quite other. It’s some kind of benchmark, a distillation & articulation of how this stuff is best done now.

      The live improvisations are some part of that. But they also illustrate a different album the trio could have made/is capable of making (perhaps did make in the course of the seven sessions) – one that I’d preferred be the object of all this exemplary commodifying.

      • [ Posted November 12, 2010, at 1:49 pm ]

        Yeah, I agree. The major accomplishment of this album is the way its made itself known. The years have long since passed since I’ve had much of a hankering for nicely packaged music, except the rare occasion when the packaging is part of the music, like Tristan Perich’s 1-Bit Symphony, or the Buddha Machine, or Autechre’s (for a time) MiniDisc-only release.

  8. [ Posted November 10, 2010, at 6:11 pm ]

    In answer to Brian, I find it impossible to play Small Craft as just another new album, without confronting the leviathan of Eno’s legacy and the unrealistically high hopes that legacy continues to inspire for his music, while simultaneously coming to grips with the soberingly reduced expectations I think it is fair to sum up for most of us with the leaden shorthand of Late Eno. Had Woody Allen adapted Nick Hornby, I am sure High Fidelity would have included a scene with a therapist, a couch, and a heated discussion of this topic. “Can we get back to your feelings about Late Eno?”

    But as for Alan’s mention of future collaborators for Eno and Julian’s suggestion of Ben Frost (I thought of Valgeir Sigurðsson from the same Bedroom Community label), I wonder if what Eno needed on Small Craft was not his Budd or his Lanois but actually his own Eno, his own wrangler to offer up cards from the Oblique Strategies deck, unsleeve obscure (and possibly even Obscure) records for reference, and catalyse the release of the inner Eno from the bonds of Late Eno. Scott Walker, for instance, has found this figure in Pete Walsh, and John Foxx has been driven into a prolific new phase by Louis Gordon. For Eno, I could see Henrik Jonsson in this role, his own Porn Sword Tobacco records channeling the antique wonders of Eno’s Music For Films in a way the old master might do well to study.

    And indeed I must agree with most here that the rhythmic parts of this album are its least compelling (especially when he gets The Drop on us in Bone Jump), and it is in these sections that his collaborators are most apparent. For me Leo Abrahams’ guitar contributions to the more ambient moments work well, while the best of the rhythmic moments, 2 Forms Of Anger, is more a remix of Eno by Jon Hopkins than the sort of rhythmic collaboration we heard – really for the last time – with David Byrne on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. But there again, David Byrne was a fanboy of sorts, someone who had studied at the Cloister Of Eno (“Eno is God” read one piece of graffiti in my college dormitory, “Eno is One” read another), passed his exams with flying colors on Fear Of Music and Remain In Light, and offered up to Eno the reflection of himself in another’s musical awareness. Sorry, I should stop with the Hegel before I get carried away.

  9. [ Posted November 11, 2010, at 6:46 am ]

    I liken Eno’s new release to Paul McCartney’s latest release, though I feel Eno got more play in the netaudio websphere than McCartney got in the indie websphere. Now I am a huge fan of Eno’s, box sets and CDs coming out of the ying-yang, but he is of only historical importance today, not current. It’s a shame so many words are being wasted on this release when these words and, more importantly, ears could be directed to say The Inventors of Aircraft’s “As It Is” (Resting Bell), Factory Kids’ “Get Gone” (Noecho), Simon Whetham’s “Active Crossover” series (various netlabels), or Meteer’s “Unless” (BFW Recordings).

  10. [ Posted November 11, 2010, at 11:43 am ]

    Yes, to the Platypus, The Inventors Of Aircraft’s releases on Resting Bell and Serein have spent much time on the speakers and headphones at my house, as for that matter have the various releases on the wonderful Phantom Channel and Rural Colours netlabels, most recently the EP on the latter by Zvuku. Whether these will reach the canonical level of Eno’s On Land or Apollo or Music For Films will be a question for the ages. But for me a few delights from the netlabel world, like those by Marsen Jules and Konrad Bayer on Autoplate, have certainly aged extremely well. (The same can be said for Weiland Samolak’s Steady State Music, now that its posting on the Monolake site has made it a free release.) One wonders whether the milky seas of emotional memory will bring the Small Craft ashore on the other side ten or twenty years hence.

  11. [ Posted November 11, 2010, at 3:02 pm ]

    It might be a little soon soon for some, but not for me to include Eno as one among a group of innovative artists coming out of the pop/rock mianstream of the 60s/70s with a more experimental/conceptual bent whose best work was done in their earlier adulthood, and whose later work has fallen short of the mark. For me the list would include, off the top of my head: David Bowie, David Byrne, Peter Gabriel, Todd Rundgren… arguably David Sylvian, John Foxx, though I know others will disagree about these last – probably others if I squeeze my brain a bit more, but these will do to make my point. I have regularly done a kind of ‘refresh’ which results in, not so much the killing, but the dispassionate replacement of my idols. Currently I’m listening to, again, off the top of my head, any of the following recent releases by any of the following youngsters, rather than the object of our discussion: Celer, The Fun Years, Pausal, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, 36, Clem Leek, Rafael Antonio Irisarri, Peter Jorgensen, Seasons {pre-din}, Chihei Hatekayama, David Tagg, VCV, Paul Bradley… I’ll stop there, but there are plenty more. The point is: there’s way too much better out there that we already don’t have enough time to listen to to be wasting our time listening to this by now small craftsman.

  12. [ Posted November 11, 2010, at 5:26 pm ]

    Alan, your list is a great one, and certainly any number of releases by those on it – anything by Pausal, Hatakeyama, and Celer as well as Clem Leek’s free Snow Tales and Irisarri’s The North Bend – have received far more attention on my speakers and headphones than anything Eno has released since The Shutov Assembly, which, despite its arguably post-prime (ie post-EG) spot in the discography, remains a favorite of mine and is echoed frequently enough in more recent electronic music to be one of his significant works. But first I wonder where we draw the line for old Brian: does Late Eno begin as the EG period ends, can we struggle to push it ahead to the end of the Opal period, or do we say that The Shutov Assembly (and for some, myself not included, the Thursday-Afternoon-for-General-MIDI of Neroli) are merely final tremblings of the early brilliance. And I will, as some of you might be expecting, differ with the assessment of Late Foxx (whose last major innovation was on Metamatic but who nevertheless has been making quite enjoyable records in several styles after being goaded back into action by Louis Gordon) and Late Sylvian (whose later records are more difficult but still for the most part worthy and at times fascinating), while wondering whether we punish our heroes by demanding too much of them. Does David Byrne – more interesting to me recently for his role in urban cycling – really owe us more brilliance after Remain In Light, the late influence of which only seems to be increasing? After his untitled third album, can we really expect Peter Gabriel to keep things set on stun? And is there a difference between a later album of an innovator no longer blowing minds but still crafting (that word again) records of high quality (for example John Foxx on Shifting City) and that of a similar innovator so far off his or her or their game as to make one wonder why that career change in favor of chartered accountancy never materialized (for instance Foxx’s friends in Ultravox, circa U-Vox)? I almost wish Eno had done a Fireman (Paul McCartney’s rave-era project with Youth) and issued this album under another name, for as Brian Eno’s New Album On Warp it almost seems a punching bag, whereas had it come out on a little (and especially an obscure and promising) label and been credited to One Nairb, we might have watched it bounce around for a round or two before surrendering to boredom. For my own part, I cannot say Small Craft is up to anything from Eno’s EG period (or anything released by Faraway Press, one of his many successors), but at least it offers a textural depth missing from the often sonically threadbare work of his digital era, and in Late Anthropocene his most convincing claim to continuing ambient relevance.

  13. [ Posted November 12, 2010, at 5:57 pm ]

    Alan’s list would also serve as a primer for Eno, of course. It’s precisely this kind of artist, working in the dense, subtle territory somewhere between ambient & drone, who has inherited most from his pioneering & from whom he now has the most to learn about how a less sheened, more textured sound can be richer & more affecting than ‘SC’s bland gloss.

    As for the apps/album comparison Marc raised earlier, I find ‘Bloom’ a significantly more rewarding work than ‘SC’ – even if it too sacrifices much for that high-gloss sound (a trade-off that ‘Air’ fails to pull off, to these ears’ satisfaction anyway).

    Its interactivity & visual appeal (those rippling dots, the somehow intense pastel shades) are its point, I suppose. The interactivity in particular gives it an appealing modesty, a tool-ness that is lacking not just in ‘SC’ but in music as normally consumed…

    Still, the ability to remix or at least augment ‘SC’ (or indeed any album) through a ‘Bloom’-style touch-screen technology would add to it enormously.

    Realistic? I’ve no idea. But part of Eno’s enduring inspiration is how little a role ‘realism’ plays in his work. Conversely, prosaic-ness – a lack of magic & delight – is much of the explanation of why ‘SC’ is so disappointing…

  14. [ Posted November 14, 2010, at 1:13 pm ]

    Sorry, coming in on this belatedly. Eno loomed large in the ’70s and I just recalled an ironic tribute to him–a song titled “Thank You For Sending Me an Eno” on a Washington DC new wave compilation (30 Seconds Over DC; the artist was Mock Turtle.) Partly this was a jab at a rather terrible DC-based band Eno produced called the Urban Verbs, featuring Chris Frantz’s brother Roddy and a synth player with no musical training, painter Robin Rose. (I saw them live and they went off the pretentiometer.) I always felt Eno did a rather mediocre job on producing the first DEVO LP: his “Jocko Homo” lacked the bite and uber-simplicity of the earlier DEVO-produced single version and his mysterious underwater sound didn’t meld well with the Akron boys’ snap, crackle and pop. His chemistry with David Byrne was a success story, however: the dreamy soundscapes complemented Byrne’s exquisite songwriting and the Heads’ pre-existing “art band” proclivities. Joshua mentioned the three Bowie collaborations, also terrific. (And a couple of John Cale albums, the “Enossification” of Peter Gabriel on The Lamb Lies Down, and…) The best parts of “Small Craft” remind me of “Music for Films” or the Eno/Cluster tunes: the two “Emerald” songs and “Complex Heaven” take me back to the days of going to see an art house homoerotic gladiator film (what was it?–oh, right, Sebastiane) just because Eno did the score.

  15. [ Posted December 13, 2010, at 2:45 am ]

    Dear Alan,

    I’m going to pinch your title “The End of Listening” for my latest version of ReAwakening of a City at the a&e gallery in Brighton In January. It’s definitely a “hyped-up thinkpiece” :-)

    I will credit this thread BTW…

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