BRIAN ENO: DRAWN FROM LIFE (w. J. Peter Schwalm) (2001)
1) From This Moment; 2) Persis; 3) Like Pictures, Pt. 1; 4) Like Pictures, Pt. 2; 5) Night Traffic; 6) Rising Dust; 7) Intenser; 8) More Dust; 9) Bloom; 10) Two Voices; 11) Bloom (instrumental).
Definitely an improvement here. Apparently, J. Peter Schwalm is a German experimental musician and composer, primarily a drummer and later on a human synthesizer, combining elements of jazz and electronica to produce some of that sweet music of the future. And considering how much Eno was moving in that direction himself, first with Jah Wobble and then on his own on The Drop, the two guys were probably destined to work together. Or, to put it more accurately, one of those days Eno was destined to work with an electro-jazz guy from Germany — the fact that this guy was J. Peter Schwalm we will ascribe, however, to historic incident.
The pair collaborated first on an esoteric project — an «image album» for a manga (Music For Onmyo-Ji) where the first disc was allocated to a Japanese gagaku ensemble, and the second one featured six Eno/Schwalm compositions. The partners having apparently taken a liking to each other, they decided upon a «proper» follow-up that would be in a position to make more waves, and not only did they carry it through, but they even went as far as to tour in support of the album, which, if I am not mistaken, was Eno's first tour since the faraway days of Roxy Music (although he did have occasional sporadic concert appearances, such as with 801, from time to time) — interesting how a totally unknown Peter Schwalm succeeded in dragging him out, where neither Robert Fripp nor David Byrne could do the trick.
In any case, the product of their collaboration is arguably the most... eventful record, let's put it that way, to come out of the Eno camp since at least Wrong Way Up. Formally, it continues his obsession with «unwelcome jazz», but the compositions seem more inspired, meaningful, and dynamic than ever before — not all of them, perhaps, but enough to bring back a little bit of faith in the man, unless it is really Schwalm who's doing all the composing here. Memorable themes, diverse atmospheres, suspenseful build-ups, and, most importantly, that old feeling of getting lost in a surreal, but totally realistic musical world, it's all here to some degree, and without any hints of either forced nostalgia or forced modernization.
The most impressive compositions are arguably the ones that bookmark the album (discounting the brief intro and outro sections) — ʽPersisʼ and ʽBloomʼ. The former, a juxtaposition of Peter's drum'n'bass tracks and Eno's synthesizer textures, is a great example of «suspenseful ambient», as you keep waiting for these chimes and drips to resolve into something creepy, and eventually there is some sort of «intermediate» resolution, when an ominous string riff appears out of nowhere and heightens the suspense — dark clouds on the horizon, approaching at an alarming rate, that sort of thing. Of course, the storm itself never comes, but that would be too much to ask for from a guy who is only interested in premonitions.
ʽBloomʼ, on the other hand, is a far more calm, gently-wobbling, trip-hop-influenced track, a careful musical rocking horse with bubbly percussion and a two-note cuckoo-clock-style synth rhythm, somewhere behind which you can distinguish (though hardly understand) the merry patter of a little kid. As a bonus track, the album also adds a purely instrumental version of the same track, but, curiously, it works better with the kid — the contrast, or, rather, the perfect synthesis between the serenity of the lightly orchestrated musical track and the child's cute little noises is endearing without being cloying, and also helps remind us of this charming humanity that infests the best of Eno's works, despite all of their technophilia.
In between the two, there's all sorts of stuff, good and bad: extremely ugly and dated vocal effects on ʽRising Dustʼ, which sounds like somebody having too much fun with Autotune and not minding the consequences is something I could easily do without, but ʽNight Trafficʼ is another case of Brian's solemn organ-like keyboard parts and Schwalm's stern, doom-laden basslines well complementing each other, and ʽMore Dustʼ has a pretty, if not downright beautiful, minimalistic guitar/keyboard pattern that slowly «drips» on the listener and is much more evocative than anything on The Drop (or maybe it is just because in reality, I am charmed out by the equally minimalistic bass «zoops» that have an entrancing quality to them).
In short, if we are ever to move away from «minimal minimalism» and closer to a world that requires a rhythm section and some musical development, the direction of Drawn From Life is a promising one — it's as if we have Brian slowly awakening from a slump here, correcting the mistakes he'd been guilty of ever since Nerve Net led him closer to the «techno world» and made him forget about his own identity and his own strongest sides. I am not sure if, given the strange strange strange musical standards of ambient, New Age, and all these next-level-of-conscience musical genres of the modern world, this record could be objectively called a «comeback», but in my personal ledger at least, nobody could deny me such a record, or the prerogative of recommending the album to all of those people who'd lost their faith in St. Brian ever since the attempt to forgive him for Thursday Afternoon ran into translational difficulties. (That said, if you happened to lose your faith in the man right after Before And After Science, the recommendation still does not apply — intelli-pop music this ain't).