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Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea CD (album) cover


Brian Eno


Progressive Electronic

3.94 | 79 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Whee, another Eno collaboration. This one drew a decent amount amount of attention in the run-up to its release, for two main reasons. The first reason was that this was Eno's first project after he'd been signed to Warp records, a longstanding British label specializing in electronic music, and it was interesting to speculate on how one of the forefathers of electronic music would fare upon joining a label focused on the cutting edge of it. The second reason had to do with Eno's collaborators; Leo Abrahams (who had contributed some guitar to Drawn From Life and had worked on a few albums Eno had produced) and Jon Hopkins (who had helped out on Another Day on Earth and had worked with Eno on some other projects) had established themselves as important figures in their own right in the world of electronic music, and these were definitely the biggest non-Fripp names that Eno had collaborated with on a non-song-centric album since his work with Harold Budd and with Cluster (the trio had also recently collaborated on the soundtrack to the Peter Jackson film The Lovely Bones). If Eno was ever going to make another non-song-centric album that "mattered," then this was the best opportunity he'd had in a while.

It took me a few listens to settle on how I felt about this, but I ultimately came to the conclusion that this is one of Eno's better instrumental albums. Unfortunately, my near total ignorance of contemporary (circa the 2010s) electronic music is a hindrance for me in making sense of my feelings towards music of this sort (generally, I get the sense that I would probably enjoy a lot of it if I allocated significant time towards getting acquainted with it, but unfortunately I just don't have the time to go down that road without giving up something else); this lack of context means that I can't make assessments that go much beyond "gee that sounds real good yup." Well, sometimes "gee that sounds real good yup" is all somebody needs in life, and this album satisfies me just fine along those lines. It's hard for me to distinguish which parts belong more to Eno than to the others; a lot of the music on here came from improvisations that were edited down and spliced together, and it's hard to say that any particular member is dominant at a given point. That said, there are some tracks that at least sound like they come from familiar territory for long-time Eno listeners; the opening "Emerald and Lime" (and the later reprise, "Emerald and Stone") is rather pretty (based around a slow rolling piano line over assorted other keyboards), "Bone Jump" sounds a lot like a typical track from The Drop in terms of the various keyboard sounds used, and "Lesser Heaven" doesn't sound that different from something that could have been on Ambient 4 or the like. The closing 8-minute "Late Anthropocene" definitely sounds like it could have been on Ambient 4, thanks to its repeated slowly ascending synth line and all of the various burblings happening underneath it, and it's a highlight as well.

Some other tracks sound vaguely like could have come from Music For Films, but with some unsettling atmospheric wrinkles; my favorite examples of this kind of track (but not the only examples) are "Complex Heaven" (which puts nagging bits of guitar over wandering keyboard plinks and fascinating other noises) and "Calcium Needles" (full of echoey chime-like noises that would work terrifically as a soundtrack in a scene that involved exploration of a misty cave). Much of the rest has a more distinctly modern feel to it, such as "Flint March" (full of jittery percussion loops), "Horse" (which sounds like the backing track to an angrier-than-usual Radiohead song), "2 Forms of Anger" (much the same), "Paleosonic" (all sorts of processed guitar-and- otherwise noise on top of a percussion loop that would sound goofy on its own), and a few others.

It's not really worth it to mention every other track, but they fit in well with the rest of the album, providing both variety and a sense of sheer competence that make them enjoyable on their own and in context. Overall, then, this album strikes me as pretty remarkable, and I'd definitely recommend it to anybody who considers themselves a fan of Eno's instrumental work and even to some who don't. As a "keeping up with the youngsters" exercise, it beats the snot out of (for instance) Nerve Net, and there's enough diversity in sound and style to keep it from getting as monotonous as some of Eno's solo work can sometimes get. Hats off to Eno for working on his game at such a late date.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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