BY XAVIER JOHNSON
Brian Eno is an all-around artist. The 74-year-old English musician is a legendary name in the space due to his contributions to the art form. As a trailblazer, he’s created some of the most well-known ambient albums. His influence stretches beyond the music he creates, being one of the key background players throughout popular music for the past 40 years.
The list of different projects Eno has been involved in would take a long time to parse through. His prolific artistry is a primary reason why 48 years after his debut solo record Here Come the Warm Jets, he is still releasing music that resonates with audiences and serves a unique niche only he can fill.
As an artist, Eno is less concerned with painting a portrait and more interested in crafting a landscape or using colors to conjure a mood. This is what he specializes in. Instead of traditional songs, most tracks lack a defined structure and lean on the general atmosphere to take over the listener’s mind’s eye.
One of his most notable records is 1978’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports; full of tracks that, well, fit wonderfully in the background of an airport. These quant musical ideas sound novel at first, but when diving into them it’s clear there’s a level of finesse that comes with being able to create music for a very specific purpose.
When looking at his discography, many of the albums are disconnected from Eno’s personal feelings or really any specific human perspective. While these soundscapes are representative of a world humans would inhabit they are usually bit players in the grand scheme. His new record ForeverAndEverNoMore, his first with vocals since 2005’s Another Day on Earth, offers a fresh perspective that dives into his thoughts and anxieties about the state of the environment. In a letter released with the album, He delivers a personal message of concern for the planet amid the growing global climate crisis.
“Those of us who share those feelings are aware that the world is changing at a super-rapid rate, and that large parts of it are disappearing forever… hence the album title,” Eno wrote. “These aren’t propaganda songs to tell you what to believe and how to act. Instead they’re my own exploration of my own feelings. The hope is that they will invite you, the listener, to share those experiences and explorations.”
It’s a forward album with its theming. There’s no doubt that Eno is concerned and that shines through immediately with the opening track “Who Gives a Thought,” as he muses on who thinks about the fireflies, germs, and other life on Earth “of no commercial worth.” The spotlight then goes to the laborers of the world, who keep the world and criticize the so-called “self-made man.” It’s a surprising moment of directness.
The contemplative nature of the opener continues throughout the ten track record. As Eno says in his statement, this is an album where he explores his own thoughts. It’s an intriguing approach that invites the listener to put themselves into a contemplative state. While these are personal concerns, none of these are particularly unique to his circumstances. A global climate disaster and the grinding wheels of capitalism harmering the Earth’s natural beauty are issues that affect everyone regardless of background. He’s built a foundation that asks the listener to both reflect on what has been lost and acknowledge the unexplainable beauty of nature.
“Garden of Stars” is a disturbing track with Eno’s low, haunting voice chanting as the atmosphere grows into a distorted, overwhelming wall of sound towards the middle. It’s a tense listen that creates a feeling of dread, almost making the listener want to skip the track to find a respite. This leads into the calming “Inclusion” which serves as a much-needed exhale that plays on many of the melodic themes from “Garden of Stars,” but is significantly more serene.
This two-track run shows Eno’s mastery at work by being able to play with noise to create tangible feelings in the listener. Neither of these songs has any distinctly catchy moments or strong rhythms, but they are emotionally affecting. The listener is put through four minutes of tension before delivering relief, all with so few elements. It’s remarkable.
Despite the somewhat sour perspective that lies within the metanarrative of ForeverAndEverNoMore, there also lies a distinct reverence for the beauty of the natural world that informs many of the album’s decisions. “There Were Bells” is a dense track that leaves the listener ensconced in a sonic landscape as thick as a rainforest. Even through this, there’s a sense of foreboding as Eno’s lower vocal register kicks in and booming percussion hits on the backend like a summertime thunderstorm.
It’s hard to explain the worlds that Eno builds on ForeverAndEverNoMore. As he wrote in the pre-album letter, this is an artist coming to terms with being a dealer of emotions; using his artistic talents to try and look into the soul of both himself and the listener and see what comes out. It’s a record that requires active listening. It won’t be something that’s just played on a whim. However, one thoughtful listen may be enough to come away with a new perspective.