Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Brian Eno 11: Apollo

A project that made perfect sense on paper culminated in another exceptional ambient album. Apollo Atmospheres & Soundtracks collects various tracks commissioned for a film about the Apollo space missions, performed by Eno with his brother Roger, plus new collaborator Daniel Lanois. As the liner notes suggest, this music is designed to accompany images of “the vastness of space” on a big screen, compared to the grainy images people had seen on their tiny television screens.
Often the music is dark and brooding, but not so unsettling as to cause discomfort. Even without the visuals, one can picture space capsules floating by, with closeup shots of the moon’s surface and our own planet seen from miles away. Some tracks, like “Matta” and the “Under Stars” variations, evoke the machinery and isolation, while more melodic pieces of beauty emerge here and there. “An Ending (Ascent)”, “Drift”, and “Always Returning” present pretty chord cycles that never quite resolve, which is fine with us. “Weightless” manages to sound like a lazy afternoon on a tropical island, while “Silver Morning” is an excellent showcase for Daniel Lanois alone on several guitars.
Apollo sits comfortably between Eno’s ambient brand and his music for films, providing a listening experience that sounds just as good in the background as it does up close. Better still, it works outside the space motif; “Deep Blue Day” was later used as a humorous counterpoint in the film Trainspotting. In a catalog that grew to be increasingly unwieldy over time, Apollo stands out as a worthy purchase.
Years later, just in time for the 50th anniversary of man’s walk on the moon, Brian gathered his cohorts to create more music inspired by the project. This time, he solicited files from the other guys, dug through his own pile of recent ideas, and “treated” everything per his usual manner. The results were compiled on a disc titled For All Mankind (after the film that started it all), which was included in a remastered, expanded reissue of the Apollo album. Again, these are not outtakes or leftovers from the original sessions, so they don’t have the same flow, but the mood is there, so the album has been truly extended in a successful repackage for both old and new fans. Working with others’ ideas helps Eno from sinking into monotony, particularly since many pieces boast hints of rhythm rather than running on simple drones. Still probably not the best thing to play while driving, though.

Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois & Roger Eno Apollo Atmospheres & Soundtracks (1983)—
2019 Extended Edition: same as 1983, plus 11 extra tracks

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