Music

Brian Eno: Drums Between the Bells

This hybrid of music and poetry is frustratingly detached, adding color to absent ideas. It's safe to say that your spine will probably not shiver.


Brian Eno

Drums Between the Bells

Label: Warp
US Release Date: 2011-07-05
UK Release Date: 2011-07-04
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Ambient purveyor Brian Eno and poet Rick Holland have had a quiet partnership going for over ten years now. It started with a chance encounter at the highly academic Map-Making Project and led to some recording sessions in 2003, where Eno and Holland would take a stab at sound collages that fused their fortes together. Time went on and the two men worked on these sound poems at a leisurely pace. It wasn't until after Eno completed work on 2010's Small Craft on a Milk Sea that he and Holland stepped up production on their joint project. Forsaking the material that was recorded during those first sessions, Drums Between the Bells is largely a spoken word album. Nine different voices read the texts using Eno's signature spacey beds as a backdrop, if not competing for the center of attention. Musically, this isn't a big departure from what Brian Eno has done before. He'll attack you with industrial springs one moment and then lure you away on that fuzzy, familiar Eno cloud the next. As a poet, Holland deals with abstracts, impressionism, and some downright surrealist stuff. This should come together beautifully, shouldn't it? Somehow, it does not.

One problem is that, unless you are a close friend or relative of Eno, Holland, or one of the seven other readers, Drums Between the Bells does not establish a deep connection with the listener. Where to place blame -- music or poetry? -- can shift from track to track. For instance, Eno's monotone singing voice that strangely grabbed everyone's attention back in the days of Another Green World feels directionless to the point of being insulting on "Breath of Crows". Delivery also drags down a track like "Pour It Out"; while Eno builds the background with delicate arpeggios, Laura Spagnuolo reads every word as if it were the last one in a sentence. I. Think. You. Know. What. I'm. Talking. About.

At other times, you cannot fault the delivery, like when Elisha Mudly is mercilessly asked to read something as redundant and frustrating as "describing the exact actuality of what it is you see." "Dow" superficially mentions Tokyo and the stock exchange and "Fierce Aisles of Light" make some vague nods to train stations in a tone of voice reminiscent of gloomy Swedish films. And "Sounds Alien" is able to get its point across if it's meant to mish-mash your brain into believing that "life will not make sense" and then repeating the album's title numerous times.

There is one keeper, and that is "The Airman". This is once instance of music and poetry matching perfectly. Aylie Cooke's gives a performance fit for space, just the place the text is reaching for while Eno stumbles upon a magical interval on his keyboard: "The higher we climb from our surface / The clearer we see where we are". Her voice is held tightly by the reverb, and then released when Eno transposes the main figure.

Aside from that, Drums Between the Bells feels like one big obstacle of an album. Now matter how many times you cycle it through your music player, it will keep you at arm's length. A complaint like that doesn't always qualify as a complaint in some artistic circles. But if ethereal music and free form prose are going to be combined, a gut connection is needed. Brian Eno and Rick Holland somehow pass on this opportunity, making an album that sounds like fine furniture and décor with no house in which to put them.

5

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

The husband and wife duo DEGA center their latest slick synthpop soundscape around the concept of love in all of its stages.

Kalen and Aslyn Nash are an indie pop super-couple if there ever were such a thing. Before becoming as a musical duo themselves, the husband and wife duo put their best feet forward with other projects that saw them acclaim. Kalen previously provided his chops as a singer-songwriter to the Georgia Americana band, Ponderosa. Meanwhile, Aslyn was signed as a solo artist to Capitol while also providing background vocals for Ke$ha. Now, they're blending all of those individual experiences together in their latest project, DEGA.

Keep reading... Show less

On "Restless Mind", Paul Luc establishes himself as an exceptional 21st century bard who knows his way around evoking complex emotions in song.

The folk-rock swing of Paul Luc's upcoming Bad Seed is representative of the whole human condition. Following his previous track release in "Slow Dancing", the Pittsburgh singer-songwriter is sharing another mid-tempo, soulful number. This time, it describes the way too familiar feelings of uncertainty and diversion can, at times, sneak up on all of us.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image