Brian Eno - Small Craft on a Milk Sea (2010)


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By Nick DeRiso

He's got a name that sounds like the future. So, naturally, you expect Brian Eno to be ever changing, on the move, eyes continually fixed on the horizon.

That's why I was starting to hate Small Craft on a Milk Sea.

Eno's new album opens with a crystalline piano line, echoing across a frozen ocean of cloud on “Emerald and Lime," before this smeared keyboard ushers in a wandering guitar in “Complex Heaven." For fans of Eno's seminal snooze-rock triumph Ambient 1: Music For Airports, this is familiar ground.

Maybe, too familiar.

Some might celebrate the idea that Eno, after a brief, uncomfortable foray into standard musical structures (lyrics?!) on 2005's Another Day on Earth, has returned to textured, atmospheric wierdness.

But, me? Well, I was ready to decry the sad regression of a once-perpetually hip—and, when you think about it, appropriately vampiric—egghead/electro-whiz. Sure, he used to be in Roxy Music, and screws around with big-time mainstreamers like U2. But he's still Brian Eno, right?


So, yeah, the title track, with its soft red wail, was welcome, indeed: The first indication that broader, bolder brush strokes are ahead. “Flint March" hurtles in next, boasting a polyrhythmic intensity that sounds like the first moments of a night-time air raid. “Horse" is all angles, with a sizzling electrical vibration at its center.

An album that seemed caught in a nostalgic dreamscape had come fully awake.

“2 Forms of Anger" and then “Bone Jump" fuse both of Eno's principal impulses together—the quiet and the decidedly loud: On the first, there's an open-ended time signature and a eerie, aerodynamic wash of keyboards; on the second, a tippy-toe private-eye theme that runs right up to its shockingly quiet end.

“Dust Shuffle" and “Palesonic" are these shiny pieces of dance-track debris, coupled with some deliciously crunchy effects—dirty, reverb-soaked guitar riffs, and skidding keyboard drones.

Eno then descends back into the metallic contemplation of “Slow Ice, Old Moon," and his warm jets create a radiating glow once more. “Lesser Heaven," continues what becomes a seven-song ambient finale of echoing vistas—these familiar sounds heard anew in the aftermath of a flurry of activity.

The album's closer, “Invisible," begins with a rising rollercoaster's excited squeal, before becoming surrounded by scratchy uncertainty, and then dissolving into something that sounds like a new morning. It's a rebirth narrative that's echoed across Small Craft on a Milk Sea.

Brian Eno has come home again. But, thankfully, he's not staying for long.

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