Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Eno 23: The Ship

Ambient music and vocal music have been parts of various Eno albums, to be sure, but he’s rarely tried to meld them within the same piece. That changed with The Ship.
The title track is a lengthy meditation on the sinking of the Titanic. The subject is not a new obsession; back in the ‘70s Eno inaugurated his Obscure Records label with a neo-classical piece by Gavin Bryars called, yes, The Sinking Of The Titanic, which built on the idea that the orchestra on board kept playing while the boat sank. This intriguing piece incorporated taped voices and sound effects to approximate the effect of water, and so does Eno’s. After several minutes of setting a mood, he starts singing, slowly, in a very low register, and harmonized. When the voices arrive, they’re either fragmented, too low to discern, or approximate another language, until the piece fades on a repeated “wave after wave”.
The second half of the album is a suite in three parts titled “Fickle Sun”, said to be inspired by the further destruction of the first World War. The first part is almost as long as “The Ship”, but the music isn’t as soothing, with more ominous melodies in the background and the lyric punctuated by distant thuds that approach into loud clanging accompanied by brass. A churchy organ emerges, and the melody changes to a more major key. Soon the voice appears almost alone, with a female voice processed to sound like a telegraph, ending with some strings and more uncertainty. The second part, subtitled “The Hour Is Thin”, is a relatively brief, apparently computer-generated monologue read by the voice of Darth Maul, the live-action Tick, and the flatmate from Shaun Of The Dead over some otherwise pleasant piano plinking we’d prefer to hear alone. The surprising finale is a very reverent cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free”, helped by recent cohorts Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams. Whatever this has to do with the Titanic or the war is beyond us, but it’s shimmering and lovely.
Because of its length, The Ship is one of those Eno albums that sounds different every time you listen to it, thanks to all the layers and textures. And that’s probably what he wanted. It’s easy to get lost in.

Brian Eno The Ship (2016)—3

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