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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Brian Eno's 'Reflection' is a meditation on meditation

Lindsey Meyers
Lindsey Meyers

Released in 1978, Brian Eno’s groundbreaking ambient record, “Ambient 1: Music for Airports” — the first of a four-part atmospheric composition series — must have felt like a betrayal of sorts, to some. A founding and then-former member of Roxy Music, Eno had launched his solo career only a handful of albums prior, most of which were an extension of his glam rock past, foreshadowing the experimental electronic treatments he would pioneer in the following decades. With the release of “Ambient 1,” however, he had snuffed out his art-rock past in a stunning, quiet explosion of subtle and mesmerizing piano clicks.

“Ambient 1” was revolutionary at the time, but since its release, Brian Eno has become the household name of ambient music. It seems appropriate, thus, that Eno’s latest full-length release — a single 54-minute track titled “Reflection” — be strongly reminiscent of that four-part series.

The contemplative track, according to Eno, attempts to summarize the legacy of his career in a single musical entry. In this regard, the title of the release functions as both a noun and a verb: Here, Eno takes a step back to meditate in quietness, and the result is a mirror of his identity as a musician. Hence the dark album cover, a grainy image of the artist himself — like a hazy thought that enters one’s mind at the end of a sleepless night, or a face reflected on still waters.

The exercise sounds pretentious on paper, but the product is humble and genuine. Eno was never grandiose in his compositions, and this is appropriately reflected on his latest work, a subtle and largely unassuming piece.

Before “Ambient 1,” Eno released his first ambient experiment — “Discreet Music” — in 1975. The record’s title doubled as the genre’s nickname: Ambient music, Eno argued, was music that could and should blend discreetly into the background, becoming part of the atmosphere that surrounds the focal point of a space, rather than being that focal point itself.

Ultimately, this is the spirit that drives “Reflection” — the track functions as a place, rather than a moment. The place is a dark pool, where aqueous synths drip and ripple in long, swelling drones. The sporadic moments of catharsis mirror the occasional piano of “Ambient 1.” The nocturnal atmosphere, haunted by the hums and strange warbles of distant creatures, is a nod both to Eno’s “Ambient 4: On Land” (1982), as well as to the lunar spaces of “Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks” (1983) — two of his finest works. The enduring drones, reminiscent of Stars of the Lid on occasion, recreates elements of the pseudo-classical “Discreet Music,” though no element that happens upon “Reflection” overstays its welcome.

In fact, the track as a whole — even by the 54-minute mark — never bores. True to the original form of the genre, the track does not demand attention to begin with. It is necessarily discreet. Things happen, though to no apparent climax or conclusion — and purposefully so. The record is, after all, a reflection, not an epiphany.

This is no criticism, however. On this release, the devoted fan may meditate on this abstract abstract of the musician’s radical career, while the inquisitive new listener may appreciate a succinct introduction to his work. To be sure, nothing about “Reflection” will stun or surprise, and the record is no artistic reinvention. But its sustained quietude demonstrates, after all, what makes Eno’s music so often transcendent.

RATING: 3.5/5

Artist: Brian Eno

Album: Reflection

Label: Warp

Favorite Track: N/A

If you like: Stars of the Lid, William Basinski, Tetsu Inoue