Biweekly Album Roundup: Brian Eno, Mica Levi, The xx
Welcome to The Drainage’s biweekly album roundup! This will (hopefully) be released on a biweekly basis and consist of short synopses of 2-3 albums that we find important. We will tell you what each album is all about, include a best/worst track roundup, and give each album a rating out of five Emory Heads.
Emory Heads are very valuable, we do not give them out willingly.
We feel like, at times, long-form journalism is not entirely necessary for album critiquing. Sometimes we want the short story, or for critics to just cut to the chase. We don’t necessarily need to know about how the Pink Floyd poster you still have up in your room folded over when you were listening to some Dave Gilmour solo release and you took it as a message from the prog-rock gods.
No. Rather, we want to know what is stimulating about the album. What is the purpose? What sets it apart? Do we enjoy the aesthetic? Our goal is to try and answer these questions without boring you with useless information.
So without further ado, let’s get the ball rolling on these reviews. (Big day for Emory, two idioms in a row!)
Brian Eno – Reflection
Brian Eno returns after last year’s 47-minute epic, The Ship, with a one-track ambient monolith. Some past Eno releases have seen the self-proclaimed “non-musician” flexing his arrangement muscles by orchestrating dense walls of sound. On Reflection, however, he plays it more low-key and organizes a (not overly) textured soundscape that is monolithic in atmosphere.
This is not entirely unfamiliar territory for Eno. As the actual creator of ambient music, Eno is a mastermind of mixing sound and feeling — and this talent still shines through. Eno unsurprisingly conjures up careful, mind-numbing background noise on Reflection, which feels like a bit of an extension of his Ambient 1-4 pieces from the late 70’s/early 80’s, which we argue were his best pieces of work.
Eno has accompanied Reflection with a visual app in which you can experience the music how Eno has intended. The app features Eno looping the album while colors slightly shift throughout the day according to what register the music finds itself in. This makes Reflection an even more immersive experience, with both sonic and visual engagement.
Ultimately on Reflection, Eno ends up creating his most mature, albeit slightly underwhelming effort yet. His ability to create an immersive environment is still there, along with his envious, nimble sound design. It seems Eno has this whole genre down to a science, which is undoubtedly impressive given the inability for most artists to even work within it. At times though, Reflection can rely a little too much on its predecessors. What Eno pushes forward with in atmosphere, he sometimes lacks in full engagement.
Still a great release though, Eno is a king and we should all be thankful he hasn’t lost his touch. We’ll give it 3.5/5 Emory Heads.
Best Track: Reflection
Worst Track: Reflection
Mica Levi – Jackie OST
As far as soundtrack music for biographical dramas go, there is a somewhat defined hierarchy. From Williams to Desplat, Horner to Reznor, the lineup is varied and loosely based on experience. More demand comes with higher exposure.
So to say the least, it is decidedly odd that the punk-y experimentalist Mica Levi has worked her way into scoring this new Jackie Kennedy biopic. Having previously recorded under the name Micachu, Levi utilizes whacked out time signatures, yelping vocals and heavy distortion to create strangely alluring tunes. It might seem counter-intuitive for an artist of this talent to score a high-budget drama film, but lest we forget just a couple years ago when Levi won the European Film Award for best composer for her freakishly captivating score of Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin. The film‘s sci-fi abstraction was a fantastic platform for Levi’s experimentation to blend with her classical upbringing.
Here, with Jackie OST, Levi presents us with a 34-minute arrangement filled with lots of strings, loose pianos and the occasional woodwind. This contemporary classical piece has little in the way of overt experimentation, but it still executed pretty brilliantly. The score works in perfect harmony with the film, and even functions as a laudable ambient enterprise.
The main qualm we have, though, is the lack of experimentation. This is not necessarily a problem with the sonics, but rather with the mere fact that Levi is scoring a biographical film. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t function as an open space for Levi’s creativity to flourish like it has on past projects.
However, we digress. Levi has continued to show her ever-expanding audience how versatile she can be, which is more than worth celebrating. We feel Jackie OST deserves 3/5 Emory Heads.
Best Track: Vanity
Worst Track: Walk To The Capitol
The xx – I See You
The fact that The xx have a new album out is exciting. It has been five years since the London group’s last LP and during that time we have seen the quick rise of the band’s centerpiece, Jamie xx. With his profound debut LP In Colour (as well as his fantastic remixes of Gill-Scott Heron’s I’m New Here), Jamie xx has become a creative force to be reckoned with in the UK garage scene.
So there was a lot to look forward to here with I See You — it’s the return of a star to his roots. Plus, Romy and Oliver Sim are exciting artists in their own right. Maybe they had the ability to create some boundary pushing dream pop that could showcase each member’s talent and versatility individually.
And they actually succeed at this with a couple of tracks. The smooth hypnotic opener “Dangerous” sets a groovy tone, while the breathtaking “Replica” comes in half way through to remind us why The xx even caught our attention in the first place. Even their first single “On Hold” is a refreshing, healthy mix of each member’s individual talents.
Unfortunately, these high points come too few and far between for I See You to be considered a truly cohesive effort. Much of this album feels like In Colour throwaways, or at the very least unsatisfactory filler. The material on this record relies on the vocal performances from Romy and Sim, which usually come off as falsely tender over these uninteresting beats. On top of this, the lyrics very often hit these moody love clichés that are eye-roll inducing. This all adds up to a false mood construction, which is the last thing we expected to hear from this LP.
The record does hit a high point at the end with “Test Me,” which is probably the best track The xx have ever made. Over lurking strings and a ride cymbal, the trio create this mind-bending ballad that was exactly what we were looking for on this album. It is a shame that there were not more moments like this on the record. We are giving I See You 2.5/5 Emory Heads.