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Brian Eno - Drums Between the Bells

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Artist: Brian Eno

Album: Drums Between the Bells

Label: Warp

Review date: Jun. 28, 2011




Brian Eno - "Pour It Out" (Drums Between the Bells)

I often find it a little annoying when the opinions of a single writer for a magazine or website are credited as the judgement of the entire concern. Saying, based on a single review, that Dusted liked an album, or that Rolling Stone hated it, both flies in the face of logic and reduces an individual writer to a faceless cog in a greater machine. I know that such attribution is a long-standing convention by this point, and the converse hardly needs to be argued, but I could provide numerous discussion from the Dusted mailing list that prove that the taste of the writers is hardly monolithic. Thatís not to say thereís not plenty of agreement, of course: though Iíve not analyzed any empirical data, I imagine that weíd largely agree on Brian Eno. Even if youíre not a huge fan, itís hard to argue with the importance of what the guyís done over the years, and Iíd wager that even those who profess to hate Eno would find his fingerprints all over more than one album that they hold dear. But what has he done for us lately?

Bill Meyer was disappointed by 2005ís Another Day on Earth, which marked Enoís return to songs and lyrics after a long time away. Brandon Bussolini was even more unhappy with Small Craft on a Milk Sea last year. All in all, despite whatever respect heís tendered by the key-strokers who toil away in Dustedís subterranean lair, it seems that Mr. Eno hasnít had much luck on this websiteís pages. Alas, itís more of the same, then, with Drums Between the Bells. Here come the lukewarm jets.

Enoís last few efforts have been collaborations, and this latest release finds him enlisting another co-conspirator. Rick Holland only appears once on Drums Between the Bells, but his work is crucial to each of the albumís tracks. Hollandís poems make up the entirety of the albumís lyrical content, with Eno composing the musical accompaniment. Enoís music is all over the map, often with stark variance from one track to the next. The shimmering ambient waves, the club-quality beats, and the dreamy guitar-driven drift are all proficiently produced, and where Enoís concerned, thatís no big surprise. However good the music sounds, though, it rarely sounds fresh. Whether chilled-out or funky, blissful or brash, thereís little music on the album that feels particularly special. Eno rehashes some old techniques and tweaks the more contemporary electronic sounds of his own musical progeny, all in service to Hollandís words. The stylistic hopscotch is a laudable effort to match Hollandís poetry in tone, but Eno often does the verse more of a disservice than a favor.

Rick Hollandís poetry isnít perfect, but rendering a line like ďThere is a glitch in the system outside the brain flowĒ in a synthesized voice over electronic music with a decades-old sense of cool isnít giving it much of a chance. The music can cast a heavy shadow on the words. ďSounds Alien,Ē the most egregious example, buffets Hollandís poem with cheesy aggression, its industrial flavors and hints of drum Ďní bass augmented by a brassy fanfare. Itís at this point that one feels the disc go over the deep end, and Enoís multi-tracked, computer-man monotone on ďDowĒ certainly isnít the life preserver the listener needs next.

Drums Between the Bells at its simplest is often Drums Between the Bells at its best. Iím not wild about Caroline Wildiís dramatic delivery on ďDreambirds,Ē but at least the spare piano behind her gives her a chance to do her thing before the track morphs into a twinkling cloud of electronic glitter. ďThe RealĒ backs Elisha Mudly with ambient streams and swirls, one of the albumís best combos (at least until digital effects annoyingly alter Mudlyís voice). These less forced pairings of speaking and sound are more likely to focus the spotlight on Hollandís poetry, which certainly isnít the case when Enoís music is attracting attention like an over-dressed teenager at the mall on a Friday night.

In a 1996 interview, Eno lamented that he felt lost with his own work, and hinted that he might be considering moving on entirely from the making of sounds and CDs. Maybe reading Keith Richardsí Life recently has made me sympathetic to the mind of the artist whoís now decades past what most would consider his or her prime, but Iím glad that Enoís still working. His pedigree of innovation suggests that he still has a few tricks up his sleeve. I believe Brian Eno could once again make important music, but weíre not there yet.

By Adam Strohm

Other Reviews of Brian Eno

Another Day On Earth

Panic of Looking

Lux

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