Brian Eno – Small Craft on a Milk Sea

On November 12, 2010, in Ambient, Electronic, Review, by Anselmo Formolo
Artist: Brian Eno
Album: Small Craft on a Milk Sea
Producer: Brian Eno
Label: Warp
Release: November 2, 2010

Rating: 8.9 RockRolls

The new Brian Eno album may play more like a film score than a musician's album, but Eno has never admitted to being a 'musician' in the first place. In fact he has labeled himself a 'non-musician', and uses the term 'treatments' to describe his instrumental modifications instead of 'music'. On his newest album 'Small Craft on a Milk Sea' (Eno's first solo album in 5 years, since 2005's 'Another Day on Earth'), Eno collaborates with fellow electronic artists Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams to bring dark and dreamy ambient electronic to your ear-holes. Those of you who aren't familiar with Brian Eno; he was in the glam/art rock band Roxy Music, until he left in 1972. Afterwards he was instrumental in the creation of ambient and generative music, and developed a tape-delay system made famous by himself and Robert Fripp of King Crimson.
Ever since 1978's Ambient 1: Music for Airports (the first album coining the term 'ambient'), Eno has been creating sprawling sound-scapes of ambient noise. However, instead of leaving the more aggressive rhythms for the bands he produces (Devo, Talking Heads, U2), Eno has decided to give us some muscle to his musical dream-scape. Sandwiched between ambience and piano are a series of guitar heavy, fast tempo electronic 'treatments'.

Leo Abrahams' guitar work twinkles in the background, roars in the foreground, and dances between the two, adding a depth to the ambient whirs and moans in the deep background. Not surprisingly, the album is by no means a 2 dimensional affair. It has multiple layers which require multiple listens, preferably with headphones. Jon Hopkins and Brian Eno do a great job with keyboards and synthesizers, making them feel as light as a feather, like a drop of water in a pond. Or profound and dreary, forcing you to feel their dread. But let's stop while we're ahead, and start from the first track.

'Small Craft on a Milk Sea' begins with a sweeping piano track called 'Emerald and Lime'. What follows is classic Eno, the first 3 tracks melting together into an ambient glow. The 2nd and 3rd track, 'Complex Heaven' and 'Small Craft on a Milk Sea', are my personal favourite ambient songs, I'm sorry 'treatments', on the album. The two tracks share muffled, pulsating beats and glitchy guitar noises. Tiny blips and bells haunt the background of the tracks, creating a canvas for their dreary melodies. The titular track leads into the louder, faster portion of the album. The tracks 'Flint March' through 'Paleosonic' are a return to a more rhythmically abrasive Eno. And even though the fast, jittery electronic beats dance around the driving guitar and keyboard melodies ever so erratically, the default atmosphere of the album remains the same.

'Horse' (The 5th track) is my favourite of these fast tempo treatments. It's jittery electronic beat is punctuated by the roars of amps and the fluttering of guitars. And it's cool, deep melody pops with electronic beeps and modulations. The rest of the fast tempo treatments play well, but nothing really stands out as much as I wished. 'Bone Jump', by far the funkiest of the tracks, almost has that old funky Eno feel to it, but it's not enough to shine through the semi-monotonous sound-scape. With the experimental 'Paleosonic' the fast tempo portion ends, giving the rest of the album back to the ambient void.

The final portion of 'Small Craft on a Milk Sea' is strictly an ambient affair, which doesn't bother me at all as I personally enjoy ambient music (especially Brian Eno's work). The first of these treatments, the aptly named 'Slow Ice, Old Moon', slowly crawls and grows into another of my favourites off this album, 'Lesser Heaven'. The track's twinkling keyboards float in the foreground and humming electronics breathe and grow in the background. And even more so than other tracks on the album, this treatment sounds most like a film score. The melody of 'Emerald and Lime' comes back in 'Emerald and Stone', albeit with a fuzzier piano part and the adding of the echoing of tinkling electronics. The track 'Written, Forgotten' plays with deep, pulsating bass and the strange indecipherable sounds of whispering and yelps. And with a whimper, the album ends with the quiet 'Late Anthropocene', the longest song on the album (clocking in at 8:09).

In retrospect, Small Craft on a Milk Sea' may not be for everyone. And the faster tempo singles 'Horse' and '2 Forms of Anger' may give first time listeners the idea that the entire album will be in the same style. But this is not the case. With only 1/3 of the album being fast tempo, the remainder is very ambient. And if you're not into ambient, you might not enjoy this album as much as some. The overall cinematic feel of the compositions were personally very enjoyable. The wide, open expanses Eno fashions here are epic and sprawling, but may bore some listeners as they are stark in comparison to the fast tempo portion of the album. Overall, if you enjoy ambient, or just electronic music in general, I say purchase this album.

8.7 RockRolls.

2 Responses to Brian Eno – Small Craft on a Milk Sea

  1. Steve says:

    Hey Elmo, Thank you for tunning me onto this music.

    Steveo Out!

  2. Miguel Rodriguez says:

    So, no love for Moose? What’s up with that?

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