Brian Eno Drums Between the Bells(Warp Records) Buy it from Insound
There’s probably only one musician who could gracefully meld poetry with ambient and electronic music without losing important aspects of either, and as expected, it’s the indomitable Brian Eno who has managed it.
Drums Between the Bells is another collaborative album from a man who reshaped the face of modern popular music, and for this installation, he joins with poet Rick Holland to continue pushing at pop music’s fundamentals. In the process, Brian Eno has released something as evocative as anything he’s done in 20 years.
Brian Eno’s last album, Small Craft on a Milk Sea, required distance and perspective to grasp; Drums Between the Bells is conversely easy to handle initially, and it all makes a deal of sense without the quiet introspection or long, ponderous hours. Of course, it’s not so shallow as to not deal with that introspection, but the basics are all fairly obvious: This is poetry and music, but it’s not poetry-music, and it’s not so divided that it’s poetry set to music. But what Brian Eno and his poet collaborator Holland have here also isn’t entirely lyrical.
In fact, Drums Between the Bells is almost entirely non-lyrical, floating its poetic content somewhere above the Eno music without touching. It’s a delicate layering that feels connected and continuous, but it’s clear the separation of these elements is at the base of the album. So while Eno and Holland are playing with the distinction between poetry and lyric,
That said, a few tracks side obviously on one side or the other: Cloud 4 is as lyrically Eno as you can be, and where most of these tracks fall on the other side of the divide, there’s enough variation that a casual listener will remain interested, and a devoted listener will have something more to consider.
This Eno-Holland collaboration, recorded intermittently between 2003 and 2011, is the type of project Brian Eno has embraced throughout his illustrious career, and when you consider his Robert Fripp experiments, the Harold Budd ambience, the more pop-oriented David Byrne outings, or any of his other work, the image of Brian Eno clearly becomes one of boldness and courage.
Drums Between the Bells really is no different in this regard. Conceptually, it could so easily degrade into something dreadfully boring, or worse, an album hard to handle for being simply ill-conceived with two smashed together disparate elements. Thankfully, this is nothing like that, instead being a combination of the classic Brian Eno ambient sound, his more recently cultivated beat-derived electronic music, poetry, and a unique ability to take interweave elements of different natures.
If Small Craft on a Milk Sea was an installation piece in the museum of Brian Eno’s career, requiring rapt attention to find meaning, Drums Between the Bells is modern art that immediately captures those witnessing it in a state of aesthetic arrest.