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Pitchfork AUGUST 18, 2020 - by Robert Ham
ROGER ENO AND BRIAN ENO: LUMINOUS
A seven-track accompaniment to the brothers' album Mixing Colours - released as both standalone EP and digital add-on - highlights the nuances of their playing and the limits of the attention span.
Five months after the release of their duo album Mixing Colours, Brian Eno and his younger brother, Roger, pick up what they've called a "back-and-forth conversation" with Luminous, an EP featuring six new tracks and a tune previously restricted to the album's Japanese edition.
The two men's musical exchange took place over the course of fifteen years: Roger, a pianist, would improvise pieces on a MIDI keyboard, then pass them off to Brian to treat with effects and electronics. For years, there was no goal in mind, but eventually, they built up enough material for an album. Perhaps too much material: The resulting full-length was a lovely if minor work from the two musicians, one hampered by a numbing seventy-five-minute runtime that undermined both the nuance of Brian's treatments and the grace of Roger's Satie-like refrains.
On Luminous, with its focused twenty-eight-minute length, similar material takes a stronger hold on the listener's attention. Although created with the same methods and technology, these finely spun instrumentals have an underlying energy that Mixing was often missing. A fine example is Manganese, a song anchored by a simple melodic phrase that, when filtered through Brian's effects, sounds like a player piano set adrift in deep space. Pewter, the original album's Japan-only bonus track, floats free alongside it - a glistening mass of synthetic chords and haunting atmosphere that calls to mind a previous Eno brothers collaboration: 1983's Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks.
Luminous' brevity also puts both men's individual contributions into sharper relief. Roger's playing on Malachite rolls and sways like a slow, joyous waltz, and his melodies on Vermillion and Violet feel as thick and languorous as a summer afternoon. Brian's contributions provide all the finer details: the fireworks-like electronic bursts throughout Vermillion, the gorgeously clashing overtones within Moss, the understated bass on Pewter.
On vinyl, Luminous exists as a standalone release. But for digital service providers, the Enos and Deutsche Grammophon made the curious decision to fold these seven tracks into the original tracklist of Mixing Colours - not sprinkled throughout, but plunked en masse toward the end, preserving Mixing Colours' two closing tracks as a finale. It's an unusual move, one telling of the ways that the album format has evolved in the streaming era. The Eno brothers aren't going the route of Kanye West, who made changes to both The Life Of Pablo and Ye long after they were released. But in their own small way, Roger and Brian are embracing the idea of an album as a living document.
Which might not be to the benefit of Mixing Colours. Whatever mood and flow they were trying to create with the original album is disrupted - and the lift that the songs from Luminous provide is quickly whisked away with the return of Mixing Colours' pleasant but forgettable material. However unwittingly, the Enos make the case that Mixing Colours might have been better served by treating its material in the manner of this new EP: doled out in smaller servings, the better for the richness of their collaboration to be appreciated.