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Pitchfork OCTOBER 18, 2022 - by Tal Rosenberg
BRIAN ENO: FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE
Confronting the climate crisis and the prospect of humankind's demise, the veteran experimental musician takes an unconventional approach: He gets in touch with his feelings.
Brian Eno is known for many things: pioneering ambient music, famous collaborators, the creative embrace of chance, a sly sense of humor, his love of cats. But you wouldn't describe him as particularly extroverted or sentimental. He's not, as some might say, "sad boy emo." So it's a little unexpected that his new album, FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE, arrives with an accompanying 375-word statement in which he uses the word "feelings" thirteen times. "It took me a long time to embrace the idea that we artists are actually feelings-merchants," Eno writes, presumably in earnest. "Art is where we start to become acquainted with those feelings, where we notice them and learn from them - learn what we like and don't like - and from there they start to turn into actionable thoughts."
What has made Eno suddenly so in touch with his inner child? Oh, just the dying planet and the prospect of humankind's demise. "I've been thinking about our narrowing, precarious future, and this music grew out of those thoughts. Perhaps it's more accurate to say I've been feeling about it... and the music grew out of the feelings" - bold text Eno's. Underpinning FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE is a theory, one you have to admire for its sheer lack of cynicism: By redirecting our emotional impulses toward the planet and away from ourselves, we'll have a greater chance of reversing the Earth's environmental trajectory.
This suggestion is so uncharacteristically hippie-dippie that I feared Eno might, at best, create a patchwork of nature sounds along the lines of Irv Teibel's Environments series or, at worst, cover Big Yellow Taxi. But what's curious about FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE is how little warmth or whimsy the music exudes. In 1975, on his most treasured vocal-based album, Another Green World, Eno created "pop" songs and sound pieces that obliquely imagined the world's various topographies and ecologies. Almost fifty years later, he's explicitly addressing the Earth, but he's producing the sonic equivalent of an icy tundra.
FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE has been touted as Eno's first primarily vocal-based LP since 2005's Another Day On Earth, but that's a little misleading. The singing isn't straightforwardly melodic; it's just one more textural layer in smoothly reverberating sound design that's full of arcing synth notes, periodic pings and chimes, and shimmering background tones. There's no percussion, no major chords, and no choruses or bridges. Typically, Eno will lay out verses in threes, slightly altering the lyrics each time, like Jewish prayers or dissolving mantras. On opening track Who Gives a Thought, for example, he recites the title at the start of each verse to ask rhetorical questions about fireflies, nematodes (an invertebrate otherwise known as a roundworm), and laborers. The implication throughout is that the vocal melodies and lyrics are meant to induce a meditative state, but the arrangements are so mercurial - slight effects intervene suddenly and randomly - that anything approaching zen is impossible.
As glossily stark as the album might be, the music isn't entirely grim. Some of it is plainly gorgeous. Even when he's intoning apocalyptic imagery on There Were Bells ("There were those who ran away / There were those who had to stay / In the end they all went the same way"), Eno fills the background with chirping birdsong. The very next track, Sherry, has a melody structured like one of longtime Eno collaborator Robert Wyatt's, gently curling around a Rhodes-like keyboard, starry guitar licks, and a distant vocal patch that recalls Aphex Twin's #1 on Selected Ambient Works Vol.2. Incidentally, Eno wields that vocal effect most remarkably on one of the album's two wordless songs. On closer Making Gardens Out Of Silence, initially composed for an exhibit at London's Serpentine gallery, eight and a half minutes of undulating synths, strings, and sustained vocal tones bear the otherworldly, transportive qualities of Eno's Apollo or his Ambient series.
Eno once again has collaborated with Leo Abrahams, Peter Chilvers, and Jon Hopkins, three people he's consistently worked with in various configurations over the past fifteen years. At times you can parse their contributions immediately: Abrahams' shimmering guitar textures, Chilvers' Bloom-like sound effects, and Hopkins' seismic synth-bass rips. These are all skilled musicians with unique perspectives, but their involvement is the album's one drawback. As an artist, Eno is famous for his sonic "treatments" and for his willingness to venture into unfamiliar territory, but for all of the record's virtues, it's a little too treated, a little too familiar; at times it verges on being a little too antiseptic. Eno's written statement and the gravity of the subject indicate a grand departure, but FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE feels nonetheless like a continuation of his work since the mid to late 2000s.
Speaking of the 2000s, when I listen to FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE, I'm reminded of David Sylvian's 2003 album Blemish, which similarly used wintry electronic music and off-target singing to evoke devastation, though in that case it concerned the dissolution of a relationship. Crucially, Sylvian offset his blistering laptop electronica with Derek Bailey's fractured, improvised acoustic guitar, giving Blemish a distinct tension. But what they both have in common is a pronounced sense of intimacy, and in Eno's case a familial one - his niece Cecily appears as a vocalist, and his granddaughter's handwriting features prominently in the video for the song We Let It In. It's exactly the kind of unconventional thinking people have come to expect from Eno: an album about something vast and daunting, made with and for the people closest to you.