On Second Thought: Brain Eno – Small Craft on a Milk Sea (2010)

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The celestial tones of “Emerald and Lime,” the opening track on Brian Eno’s Small Craft on a Milk Sea, would fit snugly on Music for Films or Another Green World. It feels like familiar ground, but a closer listen reveals that ground is made of shifting sands.

While the best moments on Small Craft echo Eno’s back catalog in beautiful and sometimes eerie ways, they do not quote it. You may think you’re hearing a snatch of “Third Uncle” on “Two Forms of Anger” or a bit of “Jezebel Spirit” on “Dust Shuffle,” but you really aren’t.

At least not quite. In many ways, Eno’s approach here approximates past collaborator Bowie’s ’02-’03 “classicist” projects with Tony Visconti, in that there is more than a nod to the past, but no one is making a big deal about it. Certainly Eno has kept pace with technology, reportedly relying on computer editing as much as improvisation. But there’s no overt attempt to update his sound. Wisely so, because his sound is timeless. If gorgeous tone poems like “Lesser Heaven” seem like ambient/new age clichés, don’t forget that it was Eno who invented those clichés.

So, is Small Craft the Eno version of Bowie’s Heathen/Reality? Well, yes and no. Eno’s project is a mixed bag, combining a rejected soundtrack for Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones and separate sessions with collaborators Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams. As befits that lineage, there are a few cuts which seem out of place. “Horse” and “Paleosonic” are busy dead-ends, recalling faceless ’90s industrial acts. But even the noisy monotony of “Two Forms of Anger” perks up when it evokes the ghost of Tiger Mountain.

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Patrick Moran

Patrick Moran

Chicago native Pat Moran is a filmmaker who has produced and written five feature films, and served as producer and editor for Western Classics, a film series hosted by actor James Best. He also writes about music for Creative Loafing Charlotte. The best job title he ever had was "part-time vampire." Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Patrick Moran
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