The latter part of 1975 was a remarkably creative period for Brian Eno. With his masterpiece Another Green World, Eno began moving away from the structure and sound of pop music toward a more static instrumental model, influenced in part by Erik Satie and strongly informed by his prior collaborations with Robert Fripp. Recorded just a month after Another Green World, Discreet Music is his first full foray into what has become known as ambient music. Using the same system of two reel-to-reel tape recorders as No Pussyfooting and Evening Star, Eno was able to layer simple parts atop one another, resulting in a beautiful piece of music that never really changes but constantly evolves with the addition and decay of different parts.
Both Brian Eno and John Cale have always flirted with conventional pop music throughout their careers, while reserving the right to go off on less accessible experiments, which means they've always held out the promise that they would make something as attractive as this synthesizer-dominated collection, on which Eno comes as close to the mainstream as he has since Another Green World and Cale is as catchy as he's been since Honi Soit. The result is one of the best albums either one has ever made. [A 2005 reissue added two bonus tracks: "Grandfather's House" and "You Don't Miss Your Water."]
Brian Eno will soon issue expanded versions of four of his albums originally released in the 1990s Nerve Net (1992), The Shutov Assembly (1992), Neroli (1993) and The Drop (1997) will each be reissued as a two-CD deluxe editions containing the original album and an additional disc of unreleased and rare Eno work specific to each record. Nerve Net includes the first ever commercial release of lost Eno album My Squelchy Life; The Shutov Assembly features an album’s worth of unreleased recordings from the same period; Neroli includes an entire unreleased hour-long Eno ambient work New Space Music; and The Drop includes nine rarely heard tracks from the Eno archives. Each album comes in deluxe casebound packaging and is accompanied by a 16-page booklet compiling photos, images and writing by Eno that is relevant to each release.
The second in Brian Eno's ambient series, The Plateaux of Mirrors fuses the fragile piano melodies of Harold Budd and the atmospheric electronics of Eno to create a lovely, evocative work. In sharp contrast to the exaggerated pieces found on his debut, The Pavilion of Dreams, this record finds Budd delivering sharp shards of piano notes pregnant with meaning and minimal in the best sense of the word. Eno's unobtrusive electronics add a resonance and atmosphere that draw from the ambient textures found on Discreet Music, Music for Films, and Evening Star.
The possibility of Someday World arose when Brian Eno invited Underworld vocalist Karl Hyde to listen to a series of intros he'd been unable to finish. The pair share a love for African horns and rhythms as well as dance music of all stripes. Eno enlisted 22-year-old Fred Gibson as a co-producer, and numerous friends including Andy Mackay and Coldplay's Will Champion. As much as this album is a collaborative venture – Hyde's vocal and lyrics are indeed signatures – its music is impossible to separate from Eno's career. References to his first four solo records are ample, as is his work with Talking Heads, David Byrne, and even David Bowie.
Picking up where such seminal Eno recordings as Music for Airports and Another Green World left off, the inveterate innovator-producer's first recording in four years is a surreal tableau of loping beats and eerie sounds enveloped in dark yet serene atmospherics. With German percussionist Schwalm contributing softly swinging drumming, Eno is free to dabble in sounds ranging from Middle Eastern string quartets to crying machines and Vocoders to happy, babbling babies. One of Life's many highlights is Laurie Anderson's cameo on "Like Pictures Part #2," as she enunciates her words above the song's spooky, soothing ambiance. "Bloom" contrasts happy baby chatter against distorted heartbeats and sinister samples; "Night Traffic" paints an empty urban center at dusk with shifting shapes and '70s jazz percussion and piano. Throughout Drawn from Life, Eno and Schwalm cast a spell of spectral dislocation and foreboding. It's like what dying prostrate in the snow must be like–slow, sleepy, beautiful, and chilling.
The Drop finds Brian Eno replicating the floating, trancy sound of Neroli, creating a shimmering collection of ambient music. Although The Drop illustrates that ambient doesn't all sound the same – it can be soothing and scary, sometimes both at once – the album doesn't particularly hold the listener's interest, as the shifting electronic soundscapes never reveal any substantial compositions. It's intriguing for a while, but by the time the 74 minutes of The Drop have finished, the album has made little lasting impression.
For the record, Nerve Net was not Brian Eno's first attempt at rock & roll. Not counting his time with Roxy Music, he also made several solo albums in the 1970s that were clearly intended as approaches to pop music – they were sideways approaches, of course, shaped by the intellectual distance he has always kept between himself and the music that arises from the forces that he puts into motion, and they were far from unqualified successes. But this is his most rocking solo album in years, and also his funkiest.
Taking a cue from the liner notes, most reviewers of Brian Eno's Neroli (1993) point out the piece's simple melodic line, its derivation from the Phrygian mode, its slowly mutating processes, and perhaps also its practical use as background music for therapy. All of these are salient points, and informative to anyone who wonders what this ambient album is like. Yet it might be helpful to mention Neroli's uncanny similarity to the second Environments album, Tintinnabulation (Synthesized Bell Tones), which was created by Syntonic Research, Inc., and released on Atlantic in 1972. Both Tintinnabulation and Eno's later work function as soft aural experiences, and resemble each other in their blurred textures and low chiming sonorities.