The Greys and Haze of the Metropolitan
Having carved out his unique niche in the midst of his famous/infamous last name, Roger Eno—yes, brother to Brian, for those who didn’t know—returns after seven years to again collaborate with Plumbline (alias of musician/composer Will Thomas). Though Eno himself has released work in the meantime, Endless City/Concrete Garden, the second go-round with Plumbline works as a nice progression in mood from 2006’s Transparencies. Even on album title alone, one could likely guess the different approaches the collaborators took to each project. Whereas Transparencies offered lots of shifting cloud-like passages that faded out across each other into subtle if almost iridescent compositions, Endless City/Concrete Garden offers an intentionally less luminous color palette.
Opener “Taking Steps,” with its electronic haze, lonely wandering piano and raindrop-esque percussion, feels like waking up from a dream, walking amongst a vast unknown urban sprawl— could be anywhere really: London, New York, Berlin, Paris or Tokyo, who knows?— under a sheet of perpetually grey clouds. Such an image conjured through the music fits a certain mood to the proceedings, and by the time the listener gets to “The Weather Inside,” an acoustic guitar driven ramble that might as well be the soundtrack to following the trails of cracks in the sidewalk, the mood encompasses the physical sense of the music, as well as the “mind” of it, so to speak.
Although one might guess that this is a “dark” album, it is not outwardly so, but is perhaps more suited with a term like “lamenting” or “introspective.” Of course, these latter terms can be used to little or no effect in the wrong hands. This doesn’t hold true for Mr. Eno however, as his simple yet affecting piano lines give the mood a genuine sense of wonder and yearning, without coming off as hackneyed or cliche. A track like “Ulterior Motives” features runs on the keys which sneak around the stuttering tapes manipulations of the backing to interesting effect.
Of course, as it is a collaboration, each performer has to hold their own in contributing to the whole, and as they prove of their previous effort, and even more so now, this combination of Eno and Plumbline has some tricks up its sleeve. Minimalistic “The Artificial Cat” is a great example of the melding of not only acoustic and electronic elements, but also the talents of the two minds at work. It almost haunts in that way of being lost in a big city at night: traffic swells in the background, mysterious echoes boom and bust just out of your line of sight. The tension builds while adding insistent percussion and an unnerving string section.
Clearly, Eno and Plumbline thought their initial collaboration successful enough to come together again, and as luck would have it, they not only repeated that success, but expanded upon it. Endless City/Concrete Garden is a piece of dramatic music that blends diverse elements under a unified feeling of mystery, and would likely provide a perfect soundtrack for the first night in a noisy metropolitan apartment.