Review: Roger Eno and Plumbline – Endless City/Concrete Garden
LP/CD or Digital Time: 37:43 Hydrogen Dukebox Records: Duke 157djv
Released May 20th in Europe and July 2nd in US and Canada
Tracks: Side A: 1) Taking Steps, 2) Geometry, 3) Codewords, 4) Suspended Animation, 5) Ulterior Motives, Side B: 6) The Weather Inside, 7) Back to the Beginning, 8) The Artificial Cat, 9) Pulling Strings, 10) Beauté de Passage
Time plays tricks as one gets older…what used to seem like an eternity might now seem like months, weeks or even a blink of an eye. In the proper hands, time can bend under the spell of music. Transparencies, the last album by Roger Eno and Plumbline (Will Thomas) appeared about six years ago…seems like a while ago, but the memory of it is clear enough that hearing their new album Endless City/Concrete Garden, is like picking up a conversation with an old friend that paused mid-sentence and then continued, flow uninterrupted after an unexpected reappearance—like they never left. But something is different, new experiences have somehow changed things.
A paradox exists in this album, on one hand there is an apparent idée fix of love, loss and tragedy (as noted by reference to the curiously obscure works of the poetess Arlette Feindre) yet the album is not gloomy; it is woven with ethereal moments of warmth, reflection and comfort, beginning with the familiar gentle cascades of piano in Taking Steps. There are scenes of rhythmic playfulness, as in Codewords, with a gamelan-like opening. Also an ironic solitude is present in some tracks like Pulling Strings where one could be walking alone late at night in a city full of people and noise, yet remain focused on more powerful inner thoughts (a strange loneliness in a crowded place). Despite the calming softness to this album, it isn’t amorphous; it has a purposeful direction.
Like their album last together, Endless City/Concrete Garden has taken its form across an ocean and between time zones, the contrasts of cities (New York City and Los Angeles) and the countryside of East Anglia in the UK. The pieces this time around often have a foundation in more recognizable instrumentation: piano, guitar and even a koto, with arrangements including violin, cello, percussion and electronic treatments. Percussive mantras also form the basis of some pieces as in The Artificial Cat. Treated field recordings make appearances throughout (I could swear there is a train horn hidden within The Weather Inside). It’s not always clear from whose hands the sounds are created, but Roger Eno’s piano work is unmistakable, as in Back to the Beginning…it starts out like an etude and then moves on to tell a story. The haunting Beauté de Passage appears to open with what sounds like Frippertronics, but with closer listening, I think it could be a treated accordion…how appropriate, how French. C’est tragique, mais enchantant aussi.
Note: The album is being released as an LP with CD included or as digital files. It’s not yet clear to me if the CD will be available on its own—no word from the record label on this.