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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. That’s not to say there’s not plenty of agreement, of course: though I’ve not analyzed any empirical data, I imagine that we’d largely agree on Brian Eno. Even if you’re not a huge fan, it’s hard to argue with the importance of what the guy’s done over the years, and I’d 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 2005’s Another Day on Earth, which marked Eno’s 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 he’s tendered by the key-strokers who toil away in Dusted’s subterranean lair, it seems that Mr. Eno hasn’t had much luck on this website’s pages. Alas, it’s more of the same, then, with Drums Between the Bells. Here come the lukewarm jets.

Eno’s 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 album’s tracks. Holland’s poems make up the entirety of the album’s lyrical content, with Eno composing the musical accompaniment. Eno’s 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 Eno’s concerned, that’s no big surprise. However good the music sounds, though, it rarely sounds fresh. Whether chilled-out or funky, blissful or brash, there’s 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 Holland’s words. The stylistic hopscotch is a laudable effort to match Holland’s poetry in tone, but Eno often does the verse more of a disservice than a favor.

Rick Holland’s poetry isn’t perfect, but rendering a line like “There is a glitch in the system outside the brain flow” in a synthesized voice over electronic music with a decades-old sense of cool isn’t giving it much of a chance. The music can cast a heavy shadow on the words. “Sounds Alien,” the most egregious example, buffets Holland’s poem with cheesy aggression, its industrial flavors and hints of drum ‘n’ bass augmented by a brassy fanfare. It’s at this point that one feels the disc go over the deep end, and Eno’s multi-tracked, computer-man monotone on “Dow” certainly isn’t the life preserver the listener needs next.

Drums Between the Bells at its simplest is often Drums Between the Bells at its best. I’m not wild about Caroline Wildi’s dramatic delivery on “Dreambirds,” 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. “The Real” backs Elisha Mudly with ambient streams and swirls, one of the album’s best combos (at least until digital effects annoyingly alter Mudly’s voice). These less forced pairings of speaking and sound are more likely to focus the spotlight on Holland’s poetry, which certainly isn’t the case when Eno’s 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 Richards’ Life recently has made me sympathetic to the mind of the artist who’s now decades past what most would consider his or her prime, but I’m glad that Eno’s 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 we’re not there yet.

By Adam Strohm

Other Reviews of Brian Eno

Another Day On Earth

Panic of Looking


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