Essential New Music: Brian Eno’s “The Ship”


After several years of recording skronky space soul with Underworld’s Karl Hyde, Brian Eno returns to his first solo effort since 2012’s LUX and his most oceanic atmospheric tones since 2010’s Small Craft On A Milk Sea. As much an avid aficionado of vocals (he’s in a U.K. gospel choir) as he is wooly instrumental ambient mood music (synthetic or otherwise), Eno stated in his notes to The Ship that he didn’t wish to “rely on the normal underpinnings of rhythmic structure and chord progressions,” yet wanted to create a walled-in sound unit that “allowed voices to exist in their own space and time, like events in a landscape.”

That his series of land-soundscape events involves the sinking of the Titanic and the frightening awe of the sea, then, would seem somewhat contradictory. Considering Eno’s space-time continuum, the epic nature of the watery subject matter and the literally novel manner in which he manipulates all forms make that dichotomy plausible and pleasurable. Yes, pleasurable, for The Ship and its 46-minute reverie contain massive epiphanies of joy within its wails of pain. From a longform eponymously titled intro—an eerie, crepuscular vibe and its sea-chanting round—to the subtly sonorous “Fickle Sun” suite, The Ship holds mystery and memory in fluid check. It is, however, Eno’s chosen finale—the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free”—that is The Ship’s most joyful blast, something deeply reminiscent, yet still modern in his quest to be unbound, for a “new illusion.” Few would say this about any previous Eno album, but The Ship is delightful in every fashion.

—A.D. Amorosi