If you pick this album up at your local music store or download facility, you may look at the artwork and think, "that doesn’t look like anything!" But try looking a little harder. Even in just the artwork, Small Craft on a Milk Sea is able to blend together raw simplicity in such a mind-bending way that what is created is something far more complex. Take this LP home to give it a spin and you may find your mind melt a little more.
On first listen, it’s as if a date has taken you to some art-house gallery where everything is made of torn up pieces of paper stuck to the wall. Every critic, visitor and their dog seems to understand it but you. However, after a second play, you should come to the realization that this here is a work of musical virtuosity.
So, who is Brian Eno? People need to know who he is. Do a Wikipedia search of his previous work and you’ll find that not only has he been going since the seventies, but he has inspired countless artists after him. Drum ‘n’ bass. Trip hop. Post-rock. Ambiance. Progressive. You name the genre and Mr. Eno has most likely had a hand in shaping it. Don’t bother asking your dad: although he’ll know the name Eno he won’t be able to name a single record. So for PMA fans wanting to gain more musical credentials to add to their pub or bar knowledge, here is the bluffer’s guide to Eno in five easy-to-follow steps:
1. Although with little formal training, Eno took the role of synthesizer player and keyboardist in glam rock band Roxy Music. He eventually left after the recording of album For Your Pleasure due to conflicts with Bryan Ferry and a lack of enjoyment of fame.
2. Shortly after leaving Roxy Music, Eno went solo, releasing art rock records Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy).
3. Eno furthered his solo career by experimenting more and more, creating styles that would later gain many epithets including “sonic landscapes” and “ambient space”.
4. Not only a musician, Brian Eno is an influential producer. He’s worked on long players for U2, Talking Heads, Depeche Mode, Paul Simon and on David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy.
5. Artists continue to start up every day claiming Eno as an influence. If you believe you’ve yet to hear the man’s music, you’re wrong. If you’ve ever watched Dune, Shutter Island, The Lovely Bones, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, a myriad of other movies or have started up Windows ’95 before, then you have been more than privy to Eno’s genius.
Where does that leave us now? 2010. The present day and Brain Eno offers us the gift of yet another splendid experimental record. From humble beginnings, Small Craft on a Milk Sea seems to bubble gently into existence, Eno’s trademark simplicity shining through. Opening track "Emerald and Lime" soothes radiantly, allowing the creeping shivers of second track "Complex Heaven" to weave itself into your subconscious. The title track’s frantic guitar riff echoes wondrously as Eno layers his rising melody over the top. Fourth number, "Flint March," then interrupts the proceedings with a crazed, industrial dance offering that would fit nicely in a sequel to The Running Man. "Flint March" and "Horse" remind you just how influential Brian Eno has been. Tracks like these ooze samples that Trent Reznor and the like would love to get their hands on.
The album continues its maddened, industrial method with "2 Forms of Anger" and "Dust Shuffle" until finally melding afrobeats with futuristic metal sounds and danceable rhythms. Eno then contrasts this with the brilliantly lovely "Paleosonic" and space-walking "Slow Ice, Old Moon." "Calcium Needles" brings some necessary atmosphere back into the affair, perfectly utilizing a spooky, echoing of bells alongside a cavernous, biting breeze.
However untrained a musician Eno was in his early Roxy Music days, he is regularly quoted as a firm believer in “theory over practice”. The tear-jerking "Emerald and Stone" illustrates this beautifully as it floats into "Written, Forgotten" and the ambient opus of "Late Anthropocene." Eno ends his 16-track LP on "Invisible;" a mesmerizing issuance of both static and grace.
Through the entire record, Small Craft on a Milk Sea comes across as a complete plethora of stylings: ambience, space, loneliness, wild dance, industrialized dystopia, man’s awakening to nature… If there’s a single complaint with Small Craft…, it’s that a few of the tracks could be longer. Both "Flint March" and "Dust Shuffle" build triumphantly only to suddenly pull the rug from under your feet as they stop abruptly – but these are small gripes on an otherwise glorious album. It’s a yoga teacher’s wet dream, a brimming haven of samples and loops for any DJ, and it makes the perfect record to write to, read to, meditate or even crochet to.
When you consider the journey Brian Eno has taken – from glam rock beginnings to art rock, production notoriety and ambient space travel – it’s easy to see why the whole world has followed in his footsteps. One thing is for sure: however closely they follow Brian Eno, he will forever be ten steps ahead.
SMALL CRAFT ON A MILK SEA READER RATING