Although this has been billed as Brian Eno’s first vocal album since 2005, that isn’t strictly true, his singing has cropped up on multiple occasions in recent years. Far from the frivolous album a vocal album implies, this is a sombre affair. Eno’s singing is kind of old-fashioned and it blends well with the largely percussion free music. Who Gives A Thought sounds portentous, Eno singing over moody electronic sounds. On We Let It In his voice sounds highly processed, calling to mind Laurie Anderson or even Johann Johannsson’s vocal work, while also being joined by his daughter Darla. Garden of Stars sounds ominous, Eno singing “these billion years will end”.
He still finds time for the kind of instrumental music he built his reputation on, with Inclusion harking back to the type of thing you might find on Apollo.
There Were Bells puts Eno’s voice centre stage booming across dark sounds. Sherry is as odd as that drink is, unsettling and not particularly enjoyable, though it does fit here. Darla Eno opens I’m Hardly Me, before Brian Eno’s booming voice is reintroduced. Clodagh Simonds joins Eno on These Small Noises, with Jon Hopkins’ twinkling keyboards creating an almost magical atmosphere.
The strongest track is saved for last, the eight-minute Making Gardens Out of Silence, which is extracted from a climate-related installation of Eno’s. A long gradual build up , voices with no actual words, just sounds. It finishes with a lovely tranquil coda which floats away. It doesn’t feel eight minutes long.
The music throughout is peak Eno. It’s a little odd with his voice in the foreground, and in some ways harder to get into than his instrumental stuff. It’s nothing like his early seventies albums either. If there is a precedent it’s 2016’s The Ship. The downcast, choral music could soundtrack the end of the world. Not one for every day, and definitely not background music.
There Were Bells