It’s only been a few short months since the announcement, but for Eno and Warp geeks alike, the wait to hear Small Craft on a Milk Sea has felt like an eternity. Each new detail released, no matter how small, has only served to further tantalize and increase the anticipation.
After all the feverish waiting, on first listen, the album meets expectations. It is everything that I imagined a Brian Eno album on Warp Records to sound like. This is by no means a criticism. Expectations were high. Crushingly so. To have those lofty expectations met is no small feat. In fact it is something of a triumph.
And then a second play reveals new layers, new depths. I play it late at night on my headphones. I blast it in my car at sunset. With each listen, expectations are exceeded. The album slowly reveals itself to be an absolute sonic delight. A dark, sensual, masterful soundtrack to a film that you create in your head while you listen to it.
With each new listen, there are aspects of the album revealed that I truly didn’t expect or anticipate. For one thing I didn’t expect it to be so dark. There are moments of absolute lightness and beauty, such as in Lesser Heaven or the sublimely spooky Written Forgotten, but the majority of the album has a sense of unease running through it. Horse is a standout track, but it’s also one of the most unsettling. The metallic guitar breakout over tribal rhythms towards the end of 2 Forms Of Anger is both euphoric and unnerving. The album is only occasionally menacing (and definitely mellows in the second half) but the unease is almost always there.
I also didn’t expect the collaboration of Eno, Hopkins and Abrahams to be so seamless. There’s no dominant voice here, and the formidable contributions of Hopkins and Abrahams aren’t simply relegated to “guest appearances”. There are moments throughout where you can sense the ambient Eno touches, the Abrahams acoustics or the Hopkins beats – but for the most part it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. It’s a collaborative effort that truly works and melds the influence of all three producers beautifully.
And amidst all the darkness there’s a sense of spontaneity and fun to be found. Towards the end of the bouncy Bone Jump, bursts of feedback and studio static cut in and then disappear. There is so much texture and depth that it is almost impossible to take it all in after one sitting. The combination of technical perfection and improvised looseness makes the album utterly compelling.
Small Craft on a Milk Sea isn’t a casual album. It’s an album for listening. It’s for pouring over the poetry of the song titles and the alien landscapes of the artwork. It’s for investing yourself in every layer of sound and letting its self-described “unfinished-ness” sit with you for days after. And in return for your commitment, the album will reward you. Transport you. Move you. And inspire you.