Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Album Review:Brian Eno – The Drop/Neroli/Nerve Net/The Shutov Assembly

(All Saints Records)

Arguably Brain Eno's most recognisable piece of music from the nineties was only five seconds long. He'd been hired by Microsoft to create the start-up sound for Windows 95. Though he still managed to put out a lot of work during this period, as well as producing record with U2 and reuniting with collaborator David Bowie. Still, his own solo releases from this period may be amongst his most eclectic releases as these recent reissues on All Saints Records seem to highlight.

Brian Eno is known for many things not limited to Roxy Music, his own forays in Ambient music and production for the likes of The Talking Heads, Coldplay and U2. Though his solo and collaborations work is were he has reached critical acclaim for his novel approached, be it in the experimental pop of Here Come The Warm Jets or Another Green World, where his pop music enter more left field and ambient realms.

Nerve Net is the earliest of these reissues, originally released in 1992, and sees Eno taking on some of the styles he help to popularise, merging blissful spacey electronica with strange pop and sampled loops. The first track Fractal Zoom is not a world away from the looping drum patterns of My Bloody Valentine's Soon, which came out only a year earlier on Loveless. It balances a darker ambient sound with softer layered vocals and centred with a solid funk-inflected bass line. Whilst some of the sounds show they're age others are forward thinking, Wire Shock has chopped up vocals arranged into a rhythm, still a staple of contemporary electronica whilst The Roil, The Choke, one of the few tracks to feature Eno's voices prominently, is one of the best tracks here, with more in common with his music from the seventies with echoes of tracks like The Ship and On Some Faraway Beach.

Niroli is a purely ambient one track album, named after a plant oil and made at a time when Eno was obsessed by smells and fragrances and even developed his own perfumes. The hour long piece of music is slight enough to fit in along side Eno's Ambient series. Like those works, such as Music for Airports there is still enough here to capture your attention in odd minor key flourishes, but its submerged sound can sink into the background just as easily. In fact Eno claimed in the linear notes for Airports that he aimed to make music “as ignorable as it is interesting” and Niroli easily fits the same bill and could have been included under the same series, maybe as Music for Daydreams.

The original cover for The Drop featured some of the worst album artwork ever made, a computer made image that is more clip art than virtual reality. Thankfully the computer-indebted music that makes up the album fares a little better. Brian Eno described the music on The Drop as jazz made by an alien who'd only heard descriptions of jazz music and the album mostly succeeds in creating music that is alien and familiar. It seems to continue some of the synthesized jazzier moments of Nerve Net over a collection of short tracks, like sketches and ideas laid out that loop into focus before fading out. Whilst it doesn't all work, some of the ideas like dreamy Spanish guitar chords that ring out on Dutch Blur or Boomcubist which has echoes of In Dark Trees are interesting enough to recall Music For Film or Eno's defining moment Another Green World. The Drop seems to aim for that kind of varied experimentation but never reaches the same quality or consistency.

The Shutov Assembly is a glacially cold piece of ambient music, made up of shorter pieces that offer more variation than his longer form works. It's cold textures could see it sit alongside the frozen soundscapes of Biosphere's Substrata. On tracks like Stedelijk and Alhondiga notes linger and echo like sounds bouncing between the walls of a vast cavern as distant hums fall in and out of the background, it's never busy and sees Eno push his interest in texture and space to the forefront. Shutov makes for a slow and solitary listen that seems a suitable fit for short winter days.

All of these albums are packed with bonus tracks and alternate versions, many are forgettable and easy to pass over, but some offer interesting ideas and pretty moments. Tracks like Prague on The Shutov Assembly see Eno using a solo piano rather than electronic textures creating a more melodic take on the albums frozen sculpture. Nerloi features another hour long track, New Space Music, made of low hums and tones that gently shift between tones whilst being void of any obvious melodic lines, it's ever shifting noises create a hypnotic effect.

Even when he doesn't always hit the mark these reissues that to their extensive linear notes full of interview and essays allow an insight into the thought processes and ideas that sparked these releases which seem to be, at least in a few cases, more interesting than the finished result. That's where Eno's brilliance lies, in trying unexpected things and taking different routes. These albums are a mixed bag of Brian Eno's nineties output. It does show a musical range and a willingness to explore, though not every gambit hits the mark, it still displays a singular talent.

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