Brian Eno - Small Craft on a Milk Sea

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2010-11-15

Drifting into being on a wave of ethereal, soothing electric piano, 'Emerald and Lime', the track which opens Eno's 26th solo album would not at all be out of place on classic efforts such as Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks and Music for Films, albums which defined the genre of ambient music. In fact, much of Small Craft on a Milk Sea is very much business as usual for Eno: washes of synth drift past, colliding with each other like slowly shifting tectonics; ice cold piano notes bring an air of glacial serenity or chilly unease to several tracks and there's absolutely nothing that could ever grace a bangin' Ibiza summer hits compilation.

Of course, if you're an Eno affectionado, then this will come as great news. There's much magic to be found in the subtle nerve-edge tingle of the title track, the dreamy glow of 'Lesser Heaven' and the arctic drone of final track 'Late Anthropocene'. However, these deeply ambient pieces only tell half the story of Small Craft on a Milk Sea. This is Eno's first album for Warp, and there's plenty of evidence that he's been paying close attention to the kind of output which has made the label's name. Tracks 'Horse', 'Bone Jump' and '2 Forms of Anger' are full of glitches, stutters and atonal screeches of noise, sometimes bordering on industrial. Their effect is all the greater since the album's opening quartet of tunes seem designed to lull listeners into a mellow and receptive state.

Eno often likes to collaborate. In the past, he has been joined on his sonic explorations by luminaries such as Robert Fripp, David Byrne and Krautrock supergroup Harmonia. For Small Craft on a Milk Sea, he edited together improvised sessions with guitarist Leo Abrahams and electronic producer Jon Hopkins. Abrahams' guitar is a particularly novel and welcome intrusion into Eno's often placid sound-world. His frenzied, fuzzed-out lashes on '2 Forms of Anger' recall the boisterous, presciently post-punk onslaught of 'Third Uncle' from Eno's 1974 album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy).

Towards its latter quarter, the album takes on a darker, druggier ambiance, with tracks 'Calcium Needles' and 'Slow Ice, Old Moon' conjuring mental images of desolate landscapes and distant horizons. These pieces remind you that the ambient sound Eno patented has little in common with so-called 'chill out' music. Tacks such as these may not contain much in the way of variation but they are positively alive with unease. Overall, this is strong album which proves that, even if he isn't at the forefront of sonic invention anymore, Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno is still absorbing new sounds, experimenting and improvising around them and creating something which is undeniably his own.

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