Monday, 19 November 2012

Brian Eno - LUX

 

It's safe to say Brian Eno has established himself as one of those artists that if they hadn't existed - or maybe just hadn't took up music as the main area of expertise for establishing a career - the World both in its musical culture as much as in its general one, will have been a completely different place. Regardless of whether people look to the man's career as a member of Roxy Music, as the pinnacle forefather and creator of what we call ambient music, or even in recent times as a sound 'architect' - whether that be deciphered more clearly as a designer, philosopher or plain-and-simple producer and engineer of sound - Eno has undoubtedly left his mark on our musical landscape(s), and at the age of 64, still continues to create music that is as much testing as it is a testament to music's overall development in the last 50 years. While his recent output has focused less on the very genre he both developed and coined in its very terminology, there's still a lot to be said about the way the man's thoughts and beliefs on music come through in his work. 2010's 'Small Craft On A Milk Sea' to me was an under-rated surprise as to how well he can work both with variances in electronics and alongside other established artists - Leo Abrahams and Jon Hopkins assisting him on this delivery. It may well, however, be deemed more welcoming to find Eno's third output on the Warp label to be what a lot are describing as a return to his pinnacle ambient 'style'. 'LUX' while being presented in the same light as the 'Ambient' tetralogy, still holds major challenges over whether Eno's output remains completely investigative, or not. And the most pressing question, of course, is whether an 'ambient' album such as this can hold up in the 21st century.

The album itself is presented in four parts, each all lasting, at the very least, eighteen minutes. 'LUX 1' shows obvious reminiscence to Eno's early masterpiece 'Ambient 1: Music For Airports' in its bare-minimal gliding of piano keys and wavered layers of mellow sounds coming and going between the instrumentation. But prior to that, the track feels far more elevated in its instrument choice. There are violins and other stringed instruments creating a sort of eery texture for the piano sounds to push up from. There's no immediate indication that the album is going for a less = more approach here, yet there's still some signs of keeping something (or everything) back to an extent. By roughly a third of the way through the track however, the piano leads the way and brings us into this more spacious less dense atmosphere where the strike of keys and the somber distancing of even more piano chords is laced beneath us. It comes to us quite swiftly and almost without hesitance - there's little means of distortion or application of further experimentation. The space becomes merely a blurred centre-piece for these pianos to continue on almost independently from one another. You can tell as the track progresses the mixture getting ever more refined and concentrated as if the music, by this point, is only metaphorically warming up...ready to lead us straight onto the forthcoming parts of the album.

And if 1 was a warm-up, then the opening passage of 'LUX 2' feels like some contorted false-start. There are what sounds like off-key strings and drowning drones of further piano pieces and little splices of violins that feel more like barrages of fog-horns or air-horns than a sort of ambient overlay. But beyond that, the track returns to this gentle wavering of instruments where each piece seems to just let itself be heard at whichever time it chooses. It'd be wrong to state there's a lack of structure or management, because that's not what Eno's form of ambient music is known for, and while the memory of Ambient 1 certainly does come flooding back to me, it's less of an awe-inspired joy to me, and more just a comfortable recollection of what I've previously experienced with an album like this. The twitches and billowing of instruments that continue coming unexpectedly do provide something of an interesting placement and relation to the track's lighter, more awe-inspired layer of calm, but the contrast between instruments work even better by the half-way point when the track seems to descend into some kind of troublesome ambiguity, violins and other string sources begin to play a little more drastically and tempered...and then dissipate just as quickly as they appear. The second half indeed shows more of a character and personality to the music and while it does lack in actual development, the way in which it shifts between something so collected and calm, into potentially something that could cause friction, works better in leading the track to what climax it may or may not (in this case) showcase.

It's left to 'LUX 3' to continue that shift from simple soundscape to something more complex and indecisive in nature. There's more of a melancholic and - at the risk of implying far more than what's meant - tense vibe to the way each piece of the track interacts. The more the track progresses, the more I get the feeling something else is happening or occurring behind these passages of sound and instruments. There's more of an uneasy vibe coming off the actual playing of the instruments and the piano keys feel as if they're descending rapidly rather than simply left to tumble amidst the atmosphere of the piece. The atmosphere itself is one of immense unease - the differing progression of violins clashing soon after with the rupture of electronics and the buzzing of bass that seemingly isolate, or even hide, themselves in the music's background. The track is left in musical limbo, for a moment the listener will certainly be partially uncertain, partially intrigued as to both what and where the music has shifted into/from. It's unclear whether the sounds in the second half of the track remain melancholic or take on a more joyous and positive vibe, but this what I like about the way the music progresses. It's the uncertainty of it all and the way there's very little to distinguish between what we should be embracing and what we may possibly be trying to look out for, that I admire about this section, because it requires the listener to engage in the music as well as simply hear it as a stand-alone track.

'LUX 4' - following on from the seemingly story-like familiarity that this album has tended to make itself out as - ends on that same responsive engagement with what is happening in the piece. The instruments feel slightly more faint and distanced than previous and there's certainly a suggestion that the forth and final part to this album is intentionally made out as a sort of musical realization as to what has taken place previous. And while I do find the somewhat foggier, somewhat fainter passage of piano more appealing so far as the progression of the album, it feels slightly let down by the continuation in Eno's emphasis on the drops of piano keys. It at times takes away from what vibes or sense of engagement I or any other listener may experience with this track. The violins that encompass the track do help in bringing some of that faint and distant interactivity back to proceedings, but it doesn't quite have the same effect with the continuation of these descents of piano. But what I like is the way the track, regardless of this, remains focused on trying to bring a sense of conceptual depth to the composition, and the way said composition develops over time. There are moments in the second half where you feel as if the story in the piece has turned a page or shifted perspective - as if suddenly switching to another point of view or maybe transcending to another level or position of such. In that respect, the track works well in cementing the eeriness of the record even if the instruments themselves do, at times, pull this off to a lesser effect.

But as an overall listen; as an album clocking in at just over 75 minutes and deemed less as four individual tracks and more four parts to the same idea, 'LUX' creates some interesting thinking space for the listener to admire and analyze the atmosphere and actual identity to the sound. Anyone coming to this album expecting something new or, to a greater extent, something immensely engaging or colossal, will undoubtedly be left disappointed. Certainly this is a record that will make fans both new and old want to dart straight to Eno's 70's catalog - either out of nostalgia or, more likely, retreat for something more fascinating. But if you're willing to forgive the lack in differentiation in instrumentation and the occasional unconvincing placement and layering, what you'll find is a comforting reminder as to the strength and benefit music as an output of expression can have and invoke so many a time. At the age of 64, Brian Eno may not be getting any younger, but you've got to give the man some deserved credit for remaining on a voyage of discovery with sound. Even if the voyage itself is, as evident here, lacking any suggestion of a decided-upon destination.
~Jordan

7.3

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