Review ·

Ever the interdisciplinary theoretician/conceptualist, Brian Eno has always been reluctant to take on the role of auteur, much less anything so limiting as "musician." That might explain why he's been so slow to release proper solo albums (not counting a number of limited-release recordings of his art instillation projects) in recent years. Though he's created collaborative efforts with David Byrne, Robert Fripp, and others in the last decade, Small Craft On A Milk Sea is only his second real solo album of the 21st century, and it's his first instrumental solo effort since 1997's The Drop. {Again, "installations" aside.) That gives Small Craft a lot to live up to, but the album is no letdown. 


Some tracks hark back to Eno's classic ambient sound, but Small Craft isn't an ambient album per se. Although a number of tracks here certainly fall comfortably under that stylistic umbrella, there's a lot more going on here. Aided by Jon Hopkins on keyboards and synthesizers and Leo Abrahams on guitar and electronics (the main man is credited simply with "computers"), Eno divides up the album into three discrete sections.


First up is a trio of glistening, ethereal tracks that sound like the aural equivalent of the album title. The middle of Small Craft is occupied by more propulsive, groove-driven cuts -- it's here that percussionist Jez Wiles really gets his licks in -- that incorporate everything from glitchtronica ("Horse") to Neu!-like motorik beats ("2 Forms of Anger"). The last batch of tracks returns to the sonic calm of the first, getting even milkier and more atmospheric.


Small Craft probably wouldn't make it as an art installation. It gets too diverse and obstreperous to make good musical wallpaper. But in the context of Eno the artiste, it stands up just fine.




  • “Emerald and Lime”
  • “Complex Heaven”
  • “Small Craft on a Milk Sea”
  • “Flint March”
  • “Horse”
  • “2 Forms of Anger”
  • “Bone Jump”
  • “Dust Shuffle”
  • “Paleosonic”
  • “Slow Ice, Old Moon”
  • “Lesser Heaven”
  • “Calcium Needles”
  • “Emerald and Stone”
  • “Written, Forgotten”
  • “Late Anthropocene”

In a very natural decision, Brian Eno decided to release Small Craft on a Milk Sea on Warp, the ambient/experimental label home to artists like Boards of Canada, Prefuse 73, and Aphex Twin, all of whom own a debt to the legendary producer/musician. Eno was last heard on 2008's collaboration with David Byrne, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, but this is his first solo LP in five years. Milk Sea features work from frequent collaborators Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams, who described the album in a blog post as containing "the fruits of several years of jams between the three of us. I've not heard anything quite like it -- it sounds 'live' and 'alien' at the same time." Sounds appropriate for Eno, who's been making alien sounds since his Roxy Music days. 

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