“The Ship” and Brian Eno’s 45-year Career

Brian Eno’s music is intuitive and bears all the blue-eyed intellect of its creator. It’s meant for reflection, sometimes wearing a beret, or sometimes strutting, donning blue eyeshadow and feathers, much as Eno’s stage alter ego did in 1972. The music can rock, dissect, and sometimes ascribe to the concept album art-rock paradigm while mostly managing to circumvent the usual attending grandiosity or pomposity. But the music is always beautiful, or thought-provoking, and often both.

Eno’s new album, The Ship, was inspired by the dual disasters of World War I and the Titanic. Thematically, he links together these dual sinking ships — whether plights of principle or luxury vessels — as examples of hubris.

He recently told Uncut that he’d noticed “a pattern that keeps repeating the connection between power and vulnerability — or power and paranoia, shall we say. The Titanic and the First World War both represent a point at which empires had reached a level of hubris and arrogance and confidence that made them think that they could do anything and they would succeed at it…. They all thought they were unsinkable, and they sank.”

The album is organized as a meandering ambient lullaby ending with an anachronistic nod to The Velvet Underground that was recorded over a decade ago. Its first eponymous track is over 21 minutes long, while the next, “Fickle Sun (i)” clocks in around 18 minutes, followed by “Fickle Sun (ii) The Hour is Thin,” a comparably meager two-something minutes long. Finally, “Fickle Sun (iii) I’m Set Free” is a nod to VU’s original “I’m Set Free” Eno originally recorded more than 12 years ago.

The first installment of the “Fickle Sun” triad is a kind of transcendental emergence into ambience that culminates with a curious assortment of snatches of images manufactured by a sort of free-association ghost in the machine poet, as the verses were computer-generated by text fed to Markov Chain Generator software. These text selections, variously, include accounts of Titanic sinking by survivors in lifeboats, pornographic WWI soldier songs, anti-hacking warnings, and other music by Eno.

Read more at Rhapsody.

Williams: Love Crisis

Ah, novelty, wherefore art thou? William Threlfall has moved beyond the usual lackluster and well-traveled 4/4 margins with Love Crisis. Threlfall builds his sound with micro-sampling instead of culling full loops, a production style that thankfully tends toward polyrythmic complexity. Cowbells and big band instrumentation augment hi-hat hand claps while the beats ride on an undertow of strapping bass. Meanwhile, cut-up slippity-slappity soul is fed through the sonic sieve. Rolling melodics are interspersed throughout, creating (gasp!) novelty within the soul-house sound.

This review originally appeared in XLR8R on October 24, 2003.

Stewart Walker: Live Extracts

Stewart Walker’s departure from his usual isolation-induced compositions may be a function of his recent Discord collaboration with Geoff White. While Walker’s past releases have resounded with a divergence from others, Live Extracts finds him working within his older, tech-derived frameworks in new ways. Walker lets loose: the truly live sound of the album lends more to booty-whomp than a desire to pore over the meaning of the conceptual title. A tendency towards polyrhythmic overlays streams an amorphous eventfulness through each beat sequence. Walker now bears the mark of collaboration, while remaining just as sacrosanct in his creation.

This review originally appeared in XLR8R on July 4, 2003.

RJD2: The Horror

RJD2: friendly android cyber-bot or Definitive Jux sample-swapping producer? RJ’s deft mastering, despite his limited studio resources, place his skills among the caliber of the inhuman android, but the emotion evoked through his music is altogether human. Deadringer reworked dusty ’70s samples into a sort of Frankenstein of disparate parts that somehow remained sonically sweet. As a follow-up, the two-CD The Horror is all remixes of that debut. A new “Final Frontier” garners a more listenable rap than its Deadringer counterpart, and “Bus Stop Bitties” finds the Motown era’s soul food even bass-ier and tastier. The second CD features live performance footage as well as an interactive photo gallery. The Horror is superlatively inhuman in its quality, much like RJD2’s production skills.

This review originally appeared in XLR8R on May 30, 2004.