On today's episode: Brian and friends. . .
Cool vinyl reissue on the always dependable 4 Men With Beards label. This was first released in 1977, but Eno had been in Germany fiddling about with Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Dieter Moebius and Michael Rother (collectively known as Harmonia, of course; but we'll get to that later) since the previous year. Cluster is Moebius and Roedelius without Rother and this album is very much akin to the previous year's recordings (though those would not surface until many years later). There's a lot of doodling, some weirdo sounds and many moments of pure beauty. This is definitely ambient music in the German sense of things, with Eno just sort of following along (all but one of the titles being in German is certainly a telltale sign). Have a listen to 'Schöne Hände' for an idea. It's kind of like Kraftwerk, but, smaller scopes. Nothing wrong with that. As a document of a group of musicians getting together at arguably their respective peaks, it's absolute essential. But Tracks and Traces, I'd say, is overall the better album.
Eno, Moebeius, Roedelius — self-titled (1978)
The second of Eno's collaborations with the guys from Cluster followed the first by a year, but found the trio working in a more dissonant territory. There's a sequencer being employed here, so things feel a bit more mechanical and intellectualized overall, but the quality still remains high. Eno takes a few vocals this time out and they're weird, good god are they weird. For a bit more of the standard ambient sound, check out 'The Shade' for a highlight. Eno's vocal number 'The Belldog' anticipates synth pop by at least a few years and I'd consider it another highlight. Overall, hard to not recommend this one, especially if you liked the first one. Fun stuff.
Brian Eno and Harold Budd — Ambient 2: The Plateau of Mirror (1980)
Budd's first collaboration with Brian Eno establishes Budd as an
entirely unique voice on piano. Eno must have known he was working with
a special talent because he mostly leaves Harold Budd's piano alone.
There's a ton of reverb on it, but that's about it. And it's really
quite amazing these melodies that Harold Budd comes up with. It feels like they've just existed forever in this wash of a dream world's dusk. Book-ended by the two part 'First Light' and 'Failing Light', it's an album of sheer, haunting beauty that's unlike anything that came before it. About fourty minutes in length, but it breezes by in no time and rewards close listens or serves as fantastic background music. It all hangs together exceedingly well, but my pick for the highlight would be the title track. Really wonderful music.
Brian Eno and Harold Budd — The Pearl (1984)
The second of Budd and Eno's collaborations has often been hailed as an ambient masterpiece and who am I to argue? Where Plateau of Mirror got by just on its unique sound, the Pearl goes deeper, reaching down into an emotional element that wasn't completely present on the duo's first album. There is one definitive, big monumental highlight on this one with 'Against the Sky' and its sister song 'An Echo of Night.' Eerie and with one of the most unexpectedly rewarding chord changes I've come across recently, it's truly the centerpiece on an album of many mini-masterpieces. Absolutely fantastic.
Harold Budd — By the Dawn's Early Light (1991)
This would be a fine album if Harold didn't feel the need to put his voice on it. I tried to be open minded and just accept that as his artistic decision, but he either sounds like HAL from 2001 or Kermit the Frog and I'm only human, so it's very distracting and disrupts the flow of an otherwise singular-sounding album. Mostly, he recites these cryptic poems, but he actually attempts to sing on 'Saint's Name Spoken' and it's, perhaps surprisingly, the least embarrassing of his vocal attempts. Otherwise, the pieces on this album are much shorter and, because of the keyboard/guitar/pedal steel/harp and occasional drums of the lineup, it gives the music a very "dawn in the desert" sort of feeling. Check out 'A Child in a Sylvan Field' for an idea of what I'm getting at. Reminds me very much of of Rain Tree Crow in that regard. It does feel like it runs a little too long, but if you program out the vocal tracks (save for 'Saint's Name Spoken' depending on how you feel about it), you have a pretty wonderful album.
Brian Eno and Robert Fripp — Evening Star (1975)
The first half of this album is just about perfect. It begins with one of the defining songs of early ambient music on the track 'Wind on Water.' The song is just pure multi-layered blissout and one of the most beautiful things in either Eno or Fripp's respective catalogues. You know it. Robert Fripp's immediately recognizable tone graces the gorgeous title track and it would be a highlight if the album didn't start on the even higher note that it did. But just as a one-two opening punch, it's hard to do much better. The rest of side one follows along in the same vein with two more tunes that are a bit more structured. Very pleasant tunes and right in line with the rest of side one. Then you get to 'An Index of Metals.' I understand the awesomeness of how it was recorded and that it's a half hour free form noise song from 1975, but boy is it hard to sit through. More of interest to me as a historical piece than something I actually want to listen to. The first half of the album is just heaven, though.