The Real

Brian Eno and Rick Holland bring two of my favorite things together; ambient soundscapes and cryptic whispering voices. Eno provides the soundscapes, Holland provides the poetry, non-famous civilians provide the whisperings. I highly recommend Drums Between the Bells as one of the great Eno collaboration albums. Since he’s apparently long ago given up making interesting things on his own, but still brings the weird when an inspiring collaborator comes along.

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Put a Straw Under Baby

This is my kind of lullaby. It’s a little creepy and a little soothing. Brian Eno does as Brian Eno does. Eno likes to venture into the surreal, as he does on this record quite a lot. Eno’s talent for atmosphere eventually became his guiding principle, but remember that at this point he was still teasing out his aesthetic. Call it the sound of a young genius throwing everything at the wall. I would say that anything Eno throws sticks, but also everything Eno throws is not for everybody.

The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch

My, my, my… Brian Eno continues to surprise even if you think you’ve figured out his methods. We’ve all heard by now of his oblique strategies; starter packs are available for purchase. Throwing out sounds, ideas and words at random then finding some means of binding them together has served Eno and his collaborators very well. I always presumed that this particular title was a result of just such witchery. There’s no cohesion to those words being together. But, nope, Eno took inspiration from a true tale of a young man named William Underwood – a Negro in the parlance of his time – from a place called Paw Paw, MI who claimed to possess pyrokinetic powers. Being the 1800’s, of course, science had no means to either disprove or explain those claims, but the man was documented by observes breathing fire (though not, to my knowledge, barbecuing kittens.) The nineteenth century was full of such delightfully credulous tales of pseudo scientific quakery, and more of them should be revived in pop culture. The weight of real context lends a whole new meaning to a self-consciously flippant song; suddenly there’s a story that you really want to know more of. This could be the seed of the next AHS.

Over Fire Island

And now, two minutes of ambiance. If you’re so inclined, Brian Eno has hours’ worth of ambient music to nod off to, but I think a few minutes is enough. On Another Green World, Eno transitioned from traditional – if weird – pop based song structures towards the aural wallpaper concept he would thoroughly pioneer over the next few years. The great thing about the instrumental parts here is that they are still recognizably self-contained songs. They’re fun to listen to, whereas the point of the later discreet ambient music for bus stops is that you can’t really listen to it at all. Fire Island, for whatever it’s worth, is a strip of land off the coast of Long Island that has been known since the 1970’s as a vacation destination for the gay community. So this may well be Brian Eno’s big rainbow-flag moment, presented in a characteristically oblique manner.

One Word

Once again, I’m cycling around to one of my all time favorite records – John Cale & Brian Eno’s Wrong Way Up. Cale and Eno, of course, are the ideal mashup, having flown in the same arty circles for decades. This reflects the best of both artists with very little of the usual attendant weirdness. I’m told that one of the songs here was even a minor hit, which is barely conceivable. I guess Eno does have a magic touch for producing great records that sound accessible as pop even when they’re the furthest possible thing. And John Cale hates pop but is secretly really good at it. Therefore, a match made in heaven.

On Some Faraway Beach

On days of stress and frustration, where to turn? Perhaps Brian Eno, in a twilight between pure ambiance and pop, is just the man to relax my frazzled mind. There’s something almost symphonic going on here, a dramatic arc that tells the story, in a song with very few words. I find it relaxing, is what I’m trying to say, and more than that, creatively elevating. It’s not about anything but it makes me feel good.

No One Receiving

It will shine and it will shudder as I guide it with my rudder.

It being, I want to imagine, the boat you’re sailing down the Nile in. Perhaps I dreamed it, but I have a memory of seeing a film that was nothing but the banks of the Nile and the water gliding by, shot from a small craft and accompanied by Brian Eno music. It was not heavy on action, but hypnotic in its monotony. Visual ambiance, to go with Eno’s ambient music experiments. So the boat shines and shudders down the Nile, and the boat is a metaphor for your flimsy mortal carapace that you rudder down the river of life, with only a slight illusion of control, and a radio to keep you company, though you know that no one is out there to hear your SOS.