Review Summary: More drums; more bells.
Chasing a successful and critically-acclaimed album with an EP of cuts that were left out from the initial release can be a double-edged sword, particularly if you’re in the business of making ambient, mood-driven music. Unlike in, say, indie rock, where abandoned cuts from the original recording sessions tend to make for interesting and even stimulating codas, in a realm such as Brian Eno’s – where the appearance of being in absolute control of the record’s trajectory needs to be upheld – release a collection of rejects and nine times out of ten, it'll sound like a collection of rejects. That’s never a good way to release a studio effort – yet it is in such waters that Panic of Looking
now finds itself.
But trust a wily old fox like Eno to be thoroughly cognizant of such circumstances and – more importantly – the surest method for their circumvention. In fact, it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario in which the composer cannily decided to exclude these six tracks from Drums between the Bells
because he was well aware that he would have the opportunity to come back to them later. Much of this latent versatility is due to the unique talents of Eno’s latest accomplice: in the poet Rick Holland, Eno had picked, as only he can, a collaborator whose work would always remain vital and current, even if its accompanying atmospherics were rarely to rise above the extemporaneous.
When artistic appointments are made through lenses tinted with such shrewd calculus, an inevitable failsafe is pitched squarely on the horizon. Take the EP’s opening track “In The Future” for example: Holland’s verses find themselves sitting precariously above sparse – even hollow – programming for over half of the song’s duration, but when the backing choir steps in, urgently pressing listeners to go “Beyond steel and glass…to the solace of grass
”, it isn’t so much Eno’s masterful electronic builds that gets pulses racing, but rather his collaborator’s jarringly introspective verses. Similarly, closer “West Bay” rides minimalistic and mournful piano chords and an artificial sea swell, with Holland’s writing driving home the track's message of bleak abandonment and sad solitude.
That’s not to say Eno is being a slouch by any means, though. On the title track, the composer conjures up a psychedelic groove that is at once oddly reminiscent of both A Saucerful of Secrets
-era Floyd before purposefully guiding it through an ambient filter. Here, the song’s heavy-handed lyrical delivery is deliberately nudged to the fore, leaving in its wake a musical piece that is almost eerie in its skittering, thoughtful quality. Elsewhere, "If These Footsteps" marries some of Eno’s trademark trippy swells to a series of guttural, Nine Inch Nails-esque industrial beats, with Holland’s lyrics strangely – but fittingly – muffled on account of some faceless huffing and puffing in the background.
With Eno being the proverbial rolling stone that he is, the Panic of Looking
EP will undoubtedly be the final release from this charming collaboration – at least for a while. While all bets are obviously off as to each artist’s next endeavor post-separation, it’s extraordinary to note that by some freak of cosmic justice, the collaboration’s biggest source of newly added value this time around is the very fact that it's over.