STAFF PICK: Reflection by Brian Eno
I wanted to spend some time with this one. When I read that Brian Eno had another project in the works so soon after 2016’s The Ship, I panicked a bit. I had seen plenty of fantastic reviews for his work thus far, but few had been able to do it justice. Now, I’m no braggart; I can’t pretend that mine is any better. I simply mean to assert that to have the opportunity to tackle something so influential is an undertaking I do not take lightly. I digress: I continued reading the announcement to see that the new record, Reflection, was set to be one near hour-long track — a continuation of his ambient series. A unique excitement flowed through me in those weeks. It was especially unique in that there was a disparity between the expectations I held for this work in comparison with more accessible music.
But again, I wanted to spend some time with this one – as much as I thought it deserved. I listened during long drives, walks to class, attempts to sleep, and lazy days at home. During this time, Reflection became my soundtrack. I couldn’t pin it down, but I knew there was something special about it. Whereas I found each of Eno’s prior ambient work to be suitable for a specific environment, Reflection seemed universally applicable. I found it a suitable complement to any situation, setting, or mood. Eno himself believes that it is his most sophisticated record so far. If sophistication is directly proportional to atmospheric depth, in this case I must agree; Reflection is truly one of his finest works to date.
Now, I wouldn’t give this such high praise if I didn’t believe that it could stand up to the best of his ambient records. Recall that I mentioned my difficulty discerning just what was so special about Reflection. This difficulty is something I consider to be a hallmark of understanding and appreciating ambient music, and it is especially prevalent here. This speaks volumes, as there are certainly no surprises. Brian Eno, a pioneer of ambient music, now conducts with the crown in an archetypical ambient style. After an interesting experiment in spoken-word with 2016’s The Ship, he again treads familiar territory.
It seems that this format has welcomed him with open arms; his no-frills approach to recording facilitates the creation a truly immersive and engulfing atmosphere. The listener is greeted by muted choral bells ringing as if from under the surface of a shallow ocean; their quiet arrival is sustained by the soft reverberation of their respective timbres. Underpinning this subtle symphony is the occasional dull roar of a warm synthesizer. Occasionally, higher bells ring out from the clouds, rattled by a hard mallet. A high frequency synth squeal sits somewhere in the background, its voice reaching the surface only through its echoes. Examination of the piece’s component parts, however, does not explain the way in which the atmosphere can tether itself to the listener’s reality. This calls attention to an interview in which Eno described ambient music as “wallpaper music;” the listener can appreciate it for the surroundings it provides.
Anyone familiar with Eno’s most influential ambient records will be enthralled to venture into this world – one that is simultaneously new and familiar.
Stream Reflection here: