Brian Eno Brian EnoDrums Between The Bells
I don’t even want to think about the question of whether it was more prestigious for Brian Eno to sign with Warp or for Warp to sign someone such as the inventor of ambient. It’s a win-win situation for the both of them, whatever the circumstances. But if we look at the matter a bit more closely, it’s Eno who comes out of it with the most benefits, of course, because he has once again moved a fanbase and curious audience that had been hidden and apathetic for years and who wouldn’t have frowned had the material been released by All Saints or other labels with not as good a public profile; what’s more, for years, public opinion was that Eno hadn’t recorded anything worthwhile in a long time. I ask myself, therefore, what would have happened if his albums prior to “Small Craft On A Milk Sea” (2010) would have been released by Warp as well, or, to the contrary, if he would have released his most recent two himself. Would they have generated just as much interest and hype? Would Eno have been cool again? Would he have been so earlier?
Personally, I think he hasn’t been treated fairly and that the two recently released albums show up to which point many people have been opportunistically spouting opinions regarding Brian Eno, as neither this “Drums Between The Bells” nor “Small Craft…” are exceptional. They’re correct albums, with some flashes of inspiration and some moments that don’t do anything special – and it’s more or less what’s been happening with every Eno record since the end of the eighties. The absolute value of each case would be located at the point where each new effort approaches his masterpieces ( “Discreet Music”, “Ambient 1” and “Apollo” in the atmospheric section; “Another Green World” and “Before And After Science” in the vocal one), and there, we can see an upturn of inspiration of Eno as a creator (more than of Eno as a producer). I also say that without stepping into the trap of those who suggest that the best Eno is the Eno who collaborates with other musicians, like Leo Abrahams and Jon Hopkins on “Small Craft…”, even though much of the man’s best work has always been through collaboration, participating and sharing ideas.
“Drums Between The Bells” is at first glance, a solo album, but once again, Brian Eno has got to this point with the help of external forces. In the full album title there’s the subtitle “And the words of Rick Holland ”, a poet who Eno has been following for years and whom he asked for special lyrics to be read out by non-professional voices on every track save one, “Silence”, a one-minute interlude with no sound. “Non-professional voices” means that Eno has asked people close to him (his accountant, several friends, even someone he knows from the gym) to read a poem out loud that would later be fitted to music, the same way the music also adapts to the visual environment (the sleeve artwork, the book of the special edition), a collection of urban and forest landscapes, made by Eno during a recent visit to Sao Paulo. Images and music, in fact, form the complete work on a second level; the vocals as well, but on the special edition of the album they appear cut off the extra CD.
So let’s talk about the music. On one hand, it’s pure Eno; on the other, it holds some surprises in the most rhythmic moments, because, although the post-rock label is a bit weird for him, there are tracks like “Bless This Space”, “Glitch”, “Sounds Alien” and “Dow” on which the instrumentation becomes compact and the drums flow among oceans of noise and pollution. On the first track there’s a tendency towards jazz (it’s strongly reminiscent of Barry Adamson), on the second we’re heavily reminded of Red Snapper, another illustrious Warp band, and “Dow” ends like a house track. But the rest moves placidly through his usual habitats, over light beds of ambient (with piano, synthesiser or guitar), where the vocal parts come in easily and emotions alternate. For example, “The Real” corresponds to the celestial branch of the Eno sound (in a way similar to “An Ending (Ascent)”), and “Pour It Out” sounds like he’s in the studio with Daniel Lanois to record the soundtrack of a film that doesn’t exist. “Dreambirds” is Satie, “Multimedia” a first sketch of a hypothetical IDM record in the vein of Seefeel, and “Breath Of Crowds” is a slightly intoxicated end that breaks the bucolic serenity of “Fierce Aisles”, “A Title” and “Cloud 4”. And if we look at it as a spoken word album, it’s not as absorbing as the one by Alan Moore on Lex, nor is it as pretentious as the one by Patti Smith and Kevin Shields. To situate it in that intersection should be understood as a compliment, as an acknowledgement of the truth: that Eno is not what he used to be, but he’s done well again.