Brian Eno’s Small Craft on a Milk Sea has only gotten better with time

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He’s got a name that sounds like the future. So, naturally, you expect Brian Eno to be ever changing, on the move, eyes continually fixed on the horizon. That’s why I was starting to hate Small Craft on a Milk Sea.

Released in November 2010, the project opened with a crystalline piano line, echoing across a frozen ocean of cloud on “Emerald and Lime,” before this smeared keyboard ushered in a wandering guitar in “Complex Heaven.” For fans of Brian Eno’s seminal snooze-rock triumph Ambient 1: Music For Airports, this was familiar ground. Maybe, too familiar.

There were perhaps those who celebrated the idea that Eno, after a brief, uncomfortable foray into standard musical structures (lyrics?!) on 2005’s Another Day on Earth, had returned to textured, atmospheric wierdness. But, me? Well, I was ready to decry the sad regression of a once-perpetually hip — and, when you think about it, appropriately vampiric — egghead/electro-whiz. Sure, he used to be in Roxy Music, and screws around with big-time mainstreamers like U2. But he’s still Brian Eno, right?

So, yeah, the title track, with its soft red wail, was welcome, indeed: The first indication that broader, bolder brush strokes were ahead. “Flint March” hurtled in next, boasting a polyrhythmic intensity that sounds like the first moments of a night-time air raid. “Horse” was all angles, with a sizzling electrical vibration at its center. An album that seemed caught in a nostalgic dreamscape had come fully awake.

“2 Forms of Anger” and then “Bone Jump” fused both of Brian Eno’s principal impulses together: On the first, there was an open-ended time signature and a eerie, aerodynamic wash of keyboards; on the second, a tippy-toe private-eye theme that ran right up to its shockingly quiet end. “Dust Shuffle” and “Palesonic” were these shiny pieces of dance-track debris, coupled with some deliciously crunchy effects — dirty, reverb-soaked guitar riffs, and skidding keyboard drones.

Brian Eno then descended back into the metallic contemplation of “Slow Ice, Old Moon,” and his warm jets created a radiating glow once more. “Lesser Heaven,” continues what became a seven-song ambient finale of echoing vistas — these familiar sounds heard anew in the aftermath of a flurry of activity. The album’s closer, “Invisible,” began with a rising rollercoaster’s excited squeal, before becoming surrounded by scratchy uncertainty, and then dissolving into something that sounds like a new morning.

It’s a rebirth narrative that was echoed across Small Craft on a Milk Sea. Brian Eno had come home again. But, thankfully, he was not staying for long.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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