Saturday, January 31, 2015

Brian Eno - 1978 - Ambient 1: Music For Airports

Brian Eno 
Ambient 1: Music For Airports

01. 1/1 (16:30)
02. 1/2 (8:55)
03. 2/1 (11:45)
04. 2/2 (12:20)

- Brian Eno / synthesizer, electric piano
- Robert Wyatt / piano
- Christina Fast / vocals
- Christine Gomez / vocals

"Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting." - Brain Eno
This album is usually accepted as the first real experiment with ambient music. It is simple, repetitive, nearly unnoticeable. At the same time it is groundbreaking, interesting, and it truly enhances whatever atmosphere (unless a turbulent one) it is introduced to. Eno took his idea for a new type of music, and revolutionized the world of atmospheric music. Eno had been building up to the idea of ambient music for a few years before creating this(starting with the Robert Fripp collaboration "No Pussy Footing"), and this is the first time it really comes out as a finished product. This is amongst the most important albums ever, as with any revolutionary piece (i.e. King Crimson's "In the Court Of The Crimson King", Miles Davis' "Bitches' Brew").

This album delivers exactly what it sets out to, perfect background music. It consists mainly of small repetitions of different piano lines or synth washes. All of which simple yet strikingly appropriate. Not much to be said about the style other than, this is the kind of music which would sound perfect in an airport to brighten moods, and calm nerves. It would make working more pleasant, and help take the edge out of stressful situations. Soothing and simple. Almost womb like.

The genius of this recording lies in its ability to be noticed without any registered effect on what you are doing. I can guarantee if you put it on while someone was doing something without letting them know they wouldn't register the music consciously at all but they would almost instantly improve their mood. Musically the album is very haunting and pretty, letting every note sit in completely and wonderfully. Although, it is not perfect.

Even though without doubt this recording was the realization of the ambient genre, it isn't its pinnacle. For example I find Bach to be the first person to realise listenable western music, but he's certainly did not reach the complexity and power of Stravinsky or the sheer genius of Mozart. The problem with this album is that even if you want it to be it is not engaging. Even if its not the purpose the perfect ambient album would need to be able to interest you if you sit in silence and just listen to the music. An example of this would be Mike Oldfield's "Songs Of A Distant Earth", which can interest you should you just listen to it and at the same time be background music. I'm still tormented with the 4 star rating, because it did invent the genre, and its pretty darn close to being the perfect ambient album. When it comes down the wire however, it is flawed.

The best track on the album is 2/1 which has the prettiest piano composition and combines the ideas in the first two tracks. Every track however (there is only 4) is perfectly suited to the album and there isn't a single weak point.

If one were a collector of every genre of music, this album is essential based on historical significance alone. This really is an excellent addition to any collection, and for fans of more electronic music you should go out and buy it post haste!

Brian Eno - 1977 - Before And After Science

Brian Eno
Before And After Science

01. No One Receiving (3:52)
02. Backwater (3:43)
03. Kurt's Rejoinder (2:55)
04. Energy Fools the Magician (2:04)
05. King's Lead Hat (3:56)
06. Here He Comes (5:38)
07. Julie With... (6:19)
08. By This River (3:03)
09. Through Hollow Lands (3:56)
10. Spider and I (4:10)

- Brian Eno / vocals, guitars, keyboards, percussion, bass

Additional musicians:
- Paul Rudolph / bass, guitar
- Percy Jones / fretless bass
- Bill MacCormick / bass
- Brian Turrington / bass
- Phil Collins / drums
- Dave Mattacks / drums
- Jaki Liebezeit / drums
- Andy Fraser / drums
- Phil Manzanera / guitar
- Fred Frith / guitar
- Robert Fripp / guitar
- Hans-Joachim Roedelius / piano, electric piano
- Dieter Moebius / bass Fender piano
- Kurt Schwitters / voice
- Shirley Williams / timbales
- Rhett Davies / percussion

Brian Peter George St. John Le Baptiste De La Salle (aka Eno) embarked on a varied and adventurous solo career after he fell out with Bryan Ferry and left Roxy Music for greener pastures - and he found them, especially with this album. Eno has summoned the talents of lots of famous (at least in the prog world) musicians from Phil Collins to Fred Frith, and even some from the Krautrock scene. The result is just amazing - Side 1 of the record is the more 'pop' oriented side which kicks off with 'No-one Receiving', a funky, avante-pop number with Percy Jones' bubbling Bass playing and PhilCo on the drums, ex- Pink Fairies and Hawkwind's Paul Rudolph also plays Bass and Rhythm Guitar, and Eno creates unusual sounds throughout as only he can do and his voice is polite and enjoyable. 'Backwater' is a sort of boogie type track with Can's Jaki Liebezeit on drums and Rudolph again on Bass - a slightly weaker track. 'Kurt's Rejoinder' is a fast paced number with interesting Bass playing. 'Energy Fools the Magician' is an ambient textured song with Percy Jones' revolutionary Fretless Bass playing. Eno's choice of sounds are unique and original, always are. 'King's Lead Hat' (which actually is an anagram of Talking Heads, whose David Byrne worked with Eno on the percussive 'My Life in a Bush of Ghosts') is an up-tempo poppy song with that experimental edge. The tracks on side 2 veer towards ambient soundscapes and dreamy atmospheres, starting with the care-free, playful 'Here He Comes' which is simple and effective, catchy and mellow, no-one could dislike this track. Now for an all-time favourite Eno track 'Julie With...' a most beautiful, tranquil and serene tune with liquid Bass sounds, floaty keyboards, almost mournful guitar playing and Eno's mild-mannered vocals sung to perfection. Intoxicating. 'By This River' features Roedelius and Moebius (German duo Cluster) and is another soft tune, with a simple progression, beautiful lyrics..."you talk to me, as if from a distance, and I reply with impressions chosen from another time..." totally magic. "Through Hollow Lands' is ambient and mysterious, slow and blissful. Last track 'Spider and I' sounds almost symphonic with majestic poly- synth sounds and accessible melody. Worthy of note ; Shirley Williams, who is credited with Time and Brush Timbales is a pseudonym for Robert Wyatt

Brian Eno - 1975 - Discreet Music

Brian Eno 
Discreet Music

01. Discreet Music (31:34)
02. Three Variations on the Canon in D Major: Fullness of Wind (9:55)
03. Three Variations on the Canon in D Major: French Catalogues (5:19)
04. Three Variations on the Canon in D Major: Brutal Ardour (8:13)

- Brian Eno / synthesiser, keyboards, vocals

With time this minimalistic album has grown one of my greatest favourites, containing the most romantically beautiful ambient music I have yet heard. The A-side of the vinyl is built from delicate whispers of flute mellotrons and soothing synth tones, creating calm area of sound, where the sensation of time disappears. The randomness of loop effects used give interesting extra value to this flow of tones; Though this is more calculated and automated, the endresult sounds much more human and plesant than the organic soothing improvisation fro example from the King Crimson's "Moonchild" explorations. The B-side has three variations of Johann Pachelbel's Canon on D Major with chamber orchestra, whose adaptations have been enhanced with some additional synths. The random approach to these scores are interesting, as due simplicity of the scales the variations provide tonally pleasant sounds, which I would describe "surrealistic classical music". "Fullness of Wind" reduces speed constantly, and disappears to hazy void of beautifulness like "Im Abendrot" of Richard Strauss. The two other pieces have the notes duration interval broken down, and shimmer transcendental sweetness like a masterful abstract painting. If you like beautiful and classical music, I would recommend to allure yourslef with the charms of this wonderful album.

Brian Eno - 1975 - Another Green World

Brian Eno 
Another Green World

01. Sky Saw (3:25)
02. Over Fire Island (1:49)
03. St. Elmo's Fire (2:56)
04. In Dark Trees (2:29)
05. The Big Ship (3:01)
06. I'll Come Running (3:48)
07. Another Green World (1:28)
08. Sombre Reptiles (2:26)
09. Little Fishes (1:30)
10. Golden Hours (4:01)
11. Becalmed (3:56)
12. Zawinul/Lava (3:00)
13. Everything Merges With the Night (3:59)
14. Spirits Drifting (2:36)

- Brian Eno / organ, synthesizer, guitar, percussion, piano, keyboards, organ (Hammond), vocals, Farfisa organ, bass pedals, tapes
- John Cale / keyboards, viola
- Phil Collins / percussion, drums
- Robert Fripp / guitar
- Percy Jones / bass, Fretless bass
- Roderick Melvin / keyboards, Fender Rhodes
- Paul Rudolph / bass, guitar, guitar (bass), drums (snare)
- Brian Turrington / bass, piano, guitar (bass)

 Balancing the more structured sounds of his first two albums with tastes of the more texturally heavy ambient work to come, Eno's music is wonderfully vibrant on Another Green World. Showcasing his brilliance as both a quirky pop music maker and a craftsman of progressive electronic soundscapes and melodies it's hard not to be captivated by the near equilibrist qualities found here.
Being a monument of timbre variation, the first thing that really strikes you about the album is its colorfulness; a mainly electronic palette capable of reaching crystal clear ethereal notes as well as mysterious, low-end droning - and everything in between. It's remarkably hard to pinpoint a certain direction or any particular moods in the short songs. There are of course the pop ones, oddities marked by strong melodies and quirky, subdued percussion. Eno's somewhat flat and carefree vocals aids in making the dreamlike qualities stronger. Overall though, while far from directionless, the songs gladly drift off on their own accord in various studio acrobatics. Not in slow moving textures and minimal melodies like those you often encounter in electronic music, although shorter bits of that are also present, but instead anchored to tangible rhythm and melody, albeit in an often fragmented and transient way. There is a certain wistfulness to some of the music, but often with something playful and cheeky on top or underneath; just further proof of the strangely suspended atmosphere on Another Green World. Stylishly distanced, cold and yet alluring, controlled fieriness. It's not surprising that Eno collaborated with another artist with the same musical aesthetics; David Bowie during his Berlin era.

A typical compositional method is adding sharp, robotic sounds over a repeated and slightly varying series of distinct bass bursts and noodling s, with steady beat and enrichment from and underlying guitar or viola. There is seldom a clear lead instrument, but rather a holistic, layered approach where instruments come and go, but where no one really dominates. The buzzing and screeching noises produced by some of those synthesizers and organs are kind of hard to ignore though, but they're never really meant to be subtle either. It really is a melange of subtle and obvious, sharp and soft.

Being a mostly electronic album, you can't escape from the fact that atmosphere is key here. It's just not meant to be blazing guitar solos or other instrumental fireworks, but instead of the truly ethereal and cerebral albums of Tangerine Dream and others of that ilk (and even later Eno, to be fair) this a more musically engaging album, with meditative qualities that still manage to keep you on edge (or keep you awake for that matter!). The scope of the fourteen songs can change rather dramatically in terms of melody, ambiance and technique, but they all share one important ingredient; the detached, pseudo-academic presentation and experimentation. That, and layering. Add one there, remove it again, add it with another one, strip down to percussion and bass. It feels a bit calculated, a fact that has the potential to scare off some listeners.

Brian Eno - 1974 - Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)

Brian Eno
Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)

01. Burning Airlines Give You So Much More (3:15)
02. Back In Judy's Jungle (5:14)
03. The Fat Lady of Limbourg (5:05)
04. Mother Whale Eyeless (6:00)
05. The Great Pretender (5:10)
06. Third Uncle (5:01)
07. Put A Straw Under Baby (3:28)
08. The True Wheel (5:20)
09. China My China (5:45)
10. Taking Tiger Mountain (6:00)

- Brian Eno / vocals, electronics, guitar, keyboards
- Phil Manzanera / guitar
- Freddie Smith & Phil Collins / drums
- Brian Turrington / bass
- Robert Wyatt / percussion, backing vocals
- Polly Eltes / vocals (4)

Eno changed. This is a much slower album than Warm Jets, and it has a far greater emphasis on the kind of repetition that was shown in "On Some Faraway Beach" and would largely dominate (in a much more potent form) Eno's later work. However, this is a slowing down, not a full-blown foray into statics like what one would later find on Another Green World, and it doesn't always really work. Eno's melody-writing talent regularly shows itself, as does his unequalled mastery of the studio and the ability to make guitars, keyboards and other assorted tools come together perfectly (which helps explain why lots of people consider this his peak, and also explains why, despite the fact that I'll seemingly be complaining about this album a lot, I'm giving it a high rating), but the album also seriously drags in more than a couple of places; simply put, I can't really see how this album can justifiably run for more than 48 minutes.
The strongest example of what I mean by saying the album drags comes from the three track stretch of "The Fat Lady of Limbourg," "Mother Whale Eyeless" and "The Great Pretender." I consider all three of these to be good songs overall, yes, but that doesn't mean I like any of them in their entirety. "The Fat Lady of Limbourg" comes the closest to completely satisfying me, as a creepy, quasi-mournful number driven by a memorable repeated "that's what we're paid for" line, but five minutes of it just seems like overkill to me. The relatively upbeat portions of "Mother Whale Eyeless" are standard high quality Eno, but the upwards bit that he sings in other parts just sounds incredibly awkward to my ears; I can tell he's trying to be hypnotic with it, but I'm just not as impressed with this as I am with the efforts he'd start showing within a year. And as for "The Great Pretender," well, I'd more or less be fine with the whole track were it not for the last fifty seconds consisting of a single noise set on endless loop. Too bad, seeing as I like the vocals and atmosphere, even if the melody continues to elude my memory.

In any case, the biggest problem I have with these tracks comes not from their individual characteristics, but from the way that, collectively, they just seemingly slooooow the album to a craaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwl. For whatever reason, these tracks feed off each other in a way that makes them each sound way more sluggish than they do individually; for an artist like Eno, who showed such a knack in his prime for making albums greater than the sum of their tracks, it's disappointing to hear the opposite effect at work.

I'm not an enormous fan of the last two tracks either, though I do think they're both quite good. "China my China" is a song that I enjoy plenty while it's on, but even after a ton of listens, I still can't remember how it goes once it's done ... on the other hand, it deserves major, MAJOR props for probably being the only song in the world to feature a typewriter solo (!!!). The closing title track, then, is rather pretty and calming, making effective use of what's basically a two-note guitar melody. In other words, it's good; it's just not mindblowingly cathartic, which (justly or not) is the standard I've set for mellow Eno ballads. It would be a near-masterpiece by the standards of most bands, though

The other five tracks are pretty much great, and (as mentioned earlier) largely different from what one would have expected in the wake of Warm Jets. "Third Uncle" is a fantastic up-tempo paranoid rocker, with Manzanera strumming at a lightning-fast rate (and throwing in some awfully intense yet almost psychedelic overdubs) and Eno delivering his lines in a way that could almost be considered rapping (there's not really any pitch changes, after all). It comes closer than anything else here to the style of Warm Jets, but even then there's a stripped-down aggression that not even "Needles in the Camel's Eye" (which is much poppier than "Third Uncle") or "Baby's on Fire" could match.

The opening "Burning Airlines Give You So Much More" is a fabulous opener, with a playful theme that's instantly identifiable as a tweak on traditional Chinese note sequences and with a delightful vocal melody and lyrics about goodness knows what (not in a pretentious way, though). The following "Back in Judy's Jungle" ostensibly matches with the concept suggested by the album title, with lyrics that in places read like military orders and reports and a part that almost breaks into a war march (though this is simultaneously a waltz, strangely enough), but it too is tweaked through Dadaist rearrangments of lines into something that is completely unpredictable from start to finish.

Finally, on side two, we get a couple of other major highlights. "Put a Straw Under Baby" is a hilarious lullaby with infamous lines like, "There's a brain in the table, there's a heart in the chair, and they all live in Jesus; it's a family affair" and with great imitations of recorders from Eno's synths. It's also notable because, after "Back in Judy's Jungle," it's the first track to resurrect even a feel of China in the music, even if the lyrics have nothing to do with it. And finally, "The True Wheel" is a high-quality stomping Bowie-esque piano-rocker with big anthemic, "We Are The 801!" chants by a mini children's choir interspersed between Eno's warblings and spiced up by yet some more great minimalistic Manzanera guitar work (I swear, this man is getting dangerously close to cracking my Top 5 Guitarists list). And man, do I ever dig Eno's "We are the ..." vocal lines in what essentially works as an extended coda to the piece.

So in total, this is one heck of an inconsistent album, but the high points are so neat that I can't help but give this a very high grade. Eno would do better things, yes, but it's a significant step forward (after all, as great as Warm Jets was, it still largely tied in with Eno's Roxy Music past) and thus a near necessity for all decent musical historians. Just make sure that you get his other "big" albums first.