Some of Them Are Old

Brian Eno’s mid-70’s pop albums – before he went off into ambient noodle land – rank high in the roster of records that serve any mood. The atmospheric tone of his song-songs offers of glimpse of the path he would later explore with his non-song compositions. But there’s also a diversity of moods and tempos that keep those records from becoming too snoozy. Of course, Eno became interested in exploring the concept of snooziness itself, which is what led him to compose all those albums for looking up at the moon or floating in a boat or airports or whatever. I like the records with songs and vocals, and I also like it when music enhances the ambiance of my environment (as opposed to overwhelming it.)

Sombre Reptiles

Brian Eno remains the undisputed master of ambient and cinematic soundscapes, despite many people’s attempts to compete with him. Eno’s genius was to bring a pop sensibility to instrumental music; and to write pop with a composer’s ear. Obviously, it was pioneering and unusual for a member of a rock band – even one as strange and unusual as Roxy Music – to cross party lines and dabble in long-form composition. It was the pop songwriter’s insight that fully realized instrumental compositions could, like pop songs, be very short. So it turns out that one of Eno’s best known works is also one of the shortest: The Windows ’95 startup sound.

Slow Ice, Old Moon

For all of his influence and discreet ubiquity, I haven’t heard much about Brian Eno lately. Not that he’s the kind of an artist who aims to make headlines, but I could do with some better keeping up. It seems like he’s still all about composing otherworldly soundscapes. As usual, those soundscapes are both purposefully boring and subtly evocative. That is, they do evoke an distinct imaginative atmosphere. It could be the soundtrack to the kind of perversely drawn-out art movie that hardly anyone makes anymore, for example, the kind where static wide-lens shots of gently rustling greenery drag on for minutes at a time, and everyone is silently consumed with unspecified but very terrible sorrows. Eno draws the listener into this imaginative plane, and that plane is – plot twist! – extremely boring. Which is exactly Eno’s plan, his longtime devious hobby of creating things of great beauty that are impossible to pay any kind of sustained attention to.

Sky Saw

Before there was Moby, there was Eno. That is obvious. Before there were most things, there was Eno. MGMT even wrote a song about it. Brian Eno is the slow, inexorable trickle-down effect of personal weirdness bleeding influence into everything around it until it’s come to subtly dominate huge swaths of popular culture. This is why you have half-ambient car commercial pop music as its own genre now. This is why we have a lot of the pop trends that we have, but as always, the original is better and more interesting.

The River

This song is also by Brian Eno. It’s a slight bit strange that Eno wrote two songs with the same title with different collaborators, but I’ll take it. They’re markedly different songs. The last one was more David Byrne than Eno. This one is from Eno and John Cale’s Wrong Way Up, and it’s more Eno than Cale. In fact it’s the only song on that record credited only to Eno. Eno’s solo vocal songs have become increasingly rare since the seventies, and that’s a shame; they’re a lot more enjoyable than ambient digital soundscapes. So this makes this one a particular favorite of mine. It’s so soothing.

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.

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.