Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jon Hassell/Brian Eno [extended]

  • Here Come the Warm Jets [Island, 1974] A
  • Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) [Island, 1975] A-
  • No Pussyfooting [Antilles, 1975] B+
  • Another Green World [Island, 1976] A+
  • Evening Star [Antilles, 1976] B+
  • Discreet Music [Antilles, 1977] A-
  • Before and After Science [Island, 1978] A-
  • Music for Films [Antilles, 1978] B+
  • Music for Airports [Ambient/PVC, 1979] B
  • Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics [Editions EG, 1980] A
  • My Life in the Bush of Ghosts [Sire, 1981] C+
  • Dream Theory in Malaya [Editions EG, 1981] B
  • On Land [Editions EG, 1982] B+
  • Apollo: Atmospherics & Soundtracks [Editions EG, 1983] B
  • Aka/Darbari/Java [Editions EG, 1983] B+
  • Power Spot [ECM, 1986] A-
  • More Blank Than Frank [Editions EG, 1986] A-
  • The Surgeon of the Nightsky Restores Dead Things by the Power of Sound [Intuition/Capitol, 1987] B+
  • Flash of the Spirit [Capitol/Intuition, 1989] B-
  • Wrong Way Up [Opal/Warner Bros., 1990] A-
  • City: Works of Fiction [Opal/Warner Bros., 1990] Neither
  • Nerve Net [Opal/Warner Bros., 1992] Dud
  • Vocal [Virgin, 1993] ***
  • Dressing for Pleasure [Warner Bros., 1994] A-
  • The Drop [Thirsty Ear, 1997] C
  • Fascinoma [Water Lily Acoustics, 1999] Neither
  • Another Day on Earth [Hannibal/Ryko, 2005] Dud
  • Maarifa Street [Nyen, 2005] ***
  • Everything That Happens Will Happen Today [Todomundo, 2008] Dud
  • Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street [ECM, 2009] **
  • Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume 1) [Ndeya, 2018] A-
  • Seeing Through Sound: Pentimento Volume Two [Ndeya, 2020] ***

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Eno: Here Come the Warm Jets [Island, 1974]
The idea of this record--top of the pops from quasi-dadaist British synth wizard--may put you off, but the actuality is quite engaging in a vaguely Velvet Underground kind of way. Minimally differentiated variations on the same melody recur and recur, but it's a great melody, and not the only one, and chances are he meant it that way, as a statement, which I agree with. What's more, words take over when the music falters, and on "Cindy Tells Me" they combine for the best song ever written about middle-class feminism, a rock and roll subject if ever there was one. My major complaint is that at times the artist uses a filter that puts dust on my needle. A

Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) [Island, 1975]
For all his synthesized, metronomic androidism, Eno is more humane than Bryan Ferry--his romanticism less strident, his oddness less devilish. It's nice, too, that in his arch, mellow way the man takes note of the real world from behind the overdubs. Every cut on this clear, consistent, elusive album affords distinct present pleasure. Admittedly, when they're over they're over--you don't flash on them the way you do on "Cindy Tells Me" and "Baby's on Fire." But that's just his way of being modest. A-

Fripp & Eno: No Pussyfooting [Antilles, 1975]
Although art-rockers praise Fripp's undulating phased guitar and Eno's mood-enhancing synthesizer drones, they also complain that it all gets a little, well, monotonous after a while. That's the problem with art-rockers--they don't know much about art. I think these two twenty-minute duets, recorded more than two years ago, are the most enjoyable pop electronics since Terry Riley's A Rainbow in Curved Air, achieving their goal with admirable formal concision. What do the bored ones want? Can't have meter shifts 'cause there's no beat, can't have bad poetry because there's no vocalist, can't have fancy chord changes 'cause there's no key center. What's left is tranquility amid the machines, more visionary and more romantic than James Taylor could dream of being. Highlight: the unrestrained snake guitar on the unfortunately titled "Swastika Girls." B+

Eno: Another Green World [Island, 1976]
Although I resisted at first, I've grown to love every minute of this arty little collection of static (i.e., non-swinging) synthesizer pieces (with vocals, percussion, and guitar). Think of it as the aural equivalent of a park on the moon--oneness with nature under conditions of artificial gravity. Played in the background, all thirteen pieces merge into a pattern that tends to calm any lurking Luddite impulses; perceived individually, each takes on an organic shape of its own. Industrialism yes. A+

Fripp & Eno: Evening Star [Antilles, 1976]
This time F&E take dead aim at the hit single they so manifestly deserve by breaking their magic music into four distinct pieces on side one, but as a result I find the total effect more static--the endings are disconcertingly arbitrary, while No Pussyfooting's full sides just keep on moving. Special award for the simulated scratch that decorates "An Index of Metals"--one of the most reassuringly fallible moments ever recorded. B+

Brian Eno: Discreet Music [Antilles, 1977]
That's discreet, not discrete--the title side comprises one quite minimal synthesizer piece more than thirty minutes long and the other three permutations of a schmaltzed-up Renaissance canon. Anybody who thought Another Green World sounded too much like radar blips or musical furniture should definitely avoid this. Me, I consider Another Green World miraculously lyrical and find that this encourages a meditative but secular mood (good for hard bits of writing) more effectively than any of the other rock-identified avant-garde music that's come our way. A-

Brian Eno: Before and After Science [Island, 1978]
To call this album disappointing is to complain that it isn't transcendent. In fact, my objections begin only when he makes transcendence his goal: I don't like the murkiness of the quiet, largely instrumental reflections that take over side two. Dirty sound is functional in loud music, but no matter how much of a "water album" this is, the airy specificity of the Another Green World mix might save music like "Through Hollow Lands" from the appearance of aimlessness. None of which diminishes side one's oblique, charming tour of the popular rhythms of the day, from Phil Collins's discoid-fusion drumming on "No One Receiving" to the dense, deadpan raveup of (find the anagram) "King's Lead Hat." A-

Brian Eno: Music for Films [Antilles, 1978]
Many of these eighteen cuts seem more like fragments than pieces, and although most of them provide subtle melodic or (especially) textural dynamics, the overall effect is a touch too willful in its impressionism for my tastes. Another Green World decelerating, which is a funny thing for movie music to do. Or maybe ECM with hindsight, a/k/a a tape splicer. B+

Brian Eno: Music for Airports [Ambient/PVC, 1979]
Although I'm no frequenter of airports, I've found that these four swatches of modestly "ambient" minimalism have real charms as general-purpose calmatives. But I must also report that they've fared unevenly against specific backgrounds: sex (neutral to arid), baseball (pleasant, otiose), dinner at my parents' (conversation piece), abstract writing (useful but less analgesic than Discreet Music or my David Behrman record). Also, I'm still waiting for "1/1" to resolve the "Three Blind Mice" theme. B

Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics [Editions EG, 1980]
For anybody but an expert (in what, though--anthropological minimalism?), preferences regarding, shall we say, ambient esoteric kitsch are pretty, shall we say, subjective. But I find this piece of cheese the most seductive (and best) thing Eno's put his name on since Another Green World. In addition to trumpeter, auteur, and ethnomusicological gadabout Hassell, the crucial voices belong to Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos and Senegalese percussionist Aiyb Dieng, but the overall effect is Arab--heard casually at medium distance in Dakar, maybe. You could also call it head music. A

Brian Eno/David Byrne: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts [Sire, 1981]
Something fishy's going on when unassuming swell-heads like these dabblers start releasing their worktapes. As cluttered and undistinguished as the MOR fusion and prog-rock it brings to the mind's ear, this album has none of the songful sweep of Remain in Light or the austere weirdness of Jon Hassell, and the vocal overlays only intensify its feckless aura. C+

Jon Hassell: Dream Theory in Malaya [Editions EG, 1981]
"Fourth world music: classical by structure, popular by textural appeal, global-minded," explain the notes. The goal is worthy enough, the result basically friendly and weird, just like the year's Eno collaboration. But with Eno ancillary, the textural appeal is artier than necessary, from the muted trumpet stutter of the irritating opening cut to the sequenced fieldtape fragment of the centerpiece to the dust on the needle that conquers all before the finale is finalized. B

Brian Eno: On Land [Editions EG, 1982]
In pulse, movement, and textural detail, this falls somewhere between the static Music for Airports (a bore) and the exotic Jon Hassell collaboration (a trip). Whenever I play it (usually late at night) I experience an undeniable pleasure so mild I'm not sure anyone would want to pay for it. Caveat emptor. B+

Brian Eno: Apollo: Atmospherics & Soundtracks [Editions EG, 1983]
Designed to help a moonshot documentary "present a set of moods," this is ambient Eno at its most accessible--often very pretty, and not without guitar. Still, I expect mood music to sustain a mood, and while as you might expect none of this is unlistenable, some of it is very nearly inaudible, which can be almost as annoying. Left to itself, "Drift" does just that, and "Stars" and "Under Stars" sound like sleep sequences. B

Jon Hassell: Aka/Darbari/Java [Editions EG, 1983]
With much help from Senegalese drummer Abdou Mboup, Hassell fabricates ambient groove music. The rhythms lull rather than motivate, their goal contemplation rather than unconsciousness. On Fourth World Vol. 1, the goal was more like transcendence. B+

Jon Hassell: Power Spot [ECM, 1986]
With the same drummer and keyb man on all seven cuts, this is the composer-trumpeter's strongest and harshest music to date. The trio is basically a rhythm band (keybs play "facsimile bass, percussion, strings, etc."); more than ever, Hassell is a colorist rather than a melodist (much less a soloist). If there's a problem it's that the music's ambient anonymity is compromised by its astringency. But us city folk are so steeped in the shit that we take pleasure in putting background dissonance under quiet control. A-

Brian Eno: More Blank Than Frank [Editions EG, 1986]
With this forcebeat pioneer now ensconced as new age paterfamilias, his selection ("biased toward my taste") of "songs from the period 1973-1977" is rather more quiet than a rock-and-roller would hope. And the three Another Green World tracks stick out like paradoxes if you happen to be intimate with that complete work. But never think the man doesn't know how to put a record together. Except for the forebodingly atmospheric "Taking Tiger Mountain," these very individual songs stand up as units and unit--certainly a stronger unit than Before and After Science, former home of the forcebeat classic "King's Lead Hat." Young people who consider him a mood-music maestro might as well learn their lesson here. A-

Jon Hassell: The Surgeon of the Nightsky Restores Dead Things by the Power of Sound [Intuition/Capitol, 1987]
Minimalist trumpeter discovers keyboard textures while abandoning quasi-traditionalist surface, just like Miles Davis before him. But though it's also true that both men have done their schlockiest work while tickling the microchips, Hassell's impulses are so esoteric that a little schlock becomes them. I doubt he'll ever equal his first Eno project, and Power Spot is tougher. But if you're looking for ambient music that eschews new age sweetener, this'll calm your nerves real nice. B+

Jon Hassell/Farafina: Flash of the Spirit [Capitol/Intuition, 1989]
The idea was for the exoticist to collaborate with flesh-and-blood "traditional musicians," whatever that can mean in such a context. The result was to reduce Yurrup and Burkina Faso to a lowest common denominator--background music. Worse still, the aural environment neither flashes nor fuses--rather than a "forced collision of cultures," it sounds like they just barely missed each other. B-

Eno/Cale: Wrong Way Up [Opal/Warner Bros., 1990]
After years of big-money production jobs and new age environments, we know Eno for a middlebrow dabbler--no longer can he dazzle us with unpretentious impassivity. And if his return to song form seems too easy, well, maybe it was. Nevertheless, this sea of permutation is the followup Another Green World deserved. He's been synthesizing rhythms so long he makes them sound organic--we get not only world-beat echoes but the soul shuffle his singing is now up to. As for the other guy, he hasn't sounded so sure of his ground since he played second fiddle to Lou Reed. A-

Jon Hassell: City: Works of Fiction [Opal/Warner Bros., 1990] Neither

Brian Eno: Nerve Net [Opal/Warner Bros., 1992] Dud

Brian Eno: Vocal [Virgin, 1993]
two discs of digitalizations to die for, one of songs on life support ("Seven Deadly Finns," "The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)") ***

Jon Hassell and Bluescreen: Dressing for Pleasure [Warner Bros., 1994]
Like they say, only never before with this guy, play loud--background it ain't. Hassell's untreated trumpet leads a multipedigreed avant-pop cusp band--from Praxis, Disposable Heroes, Tom Waits--through what most often sounds like that rare thing, good fusion. Miles and Eno, acid jazz, hip hop lessons, New Age world-music BS--all are here, with barely a hint of ripoff. The minimalist experimenter/dabbler's most conventional and convincing record. A-

Brian Eno: The Drop [Thirsty Ear, 1997]
Ever the bullshitter, the St. Petersburg (Russia) muso cites as influences Me'Shell NdegéOcello, Fela, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and as an admirer of all three I only wish I could hear the way musos hear. To me it sounds like he got stuck between Music for Airports and Wrong Way Up and spun his hard drive for 74 minutes. He hears melodies whose vagueness he extols, I hear vaguenesses whose attenuation I rue. He hears basslines, I hear tinkle. He hears "sourness," I hear more tinkle. C

Jon Hassell: Fascinoma [Water Lily Acoustics, 1999] Neither

Brian Eno: Another Day on Earth [Hannibal/Ryko, 2005] Dud

Jon Hassell: Maarifa Street [Nyen, 2005]
"Improved" world-ambient trumpet concerts that "migrate" layers between shows and even from older studio to newer live ("Darfari Bridge," "New Gods"). ***

David Byrne & Brian Eno: Everything That Happens Will Happen Today [Todomundo, 2008] Dud

Jon Hassell: Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street [ECM, 2009]
Being the moon and only wearing a few veils anyway, it did this very, very quietly ("Abu Gil," "Courtrais"). **

Jon Hassell: Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume 1) [Ndeya, 2018]
Always warm not chill, Hassell's quiet, environmental "fourth world" music has staying power that enlarges with time--listening back, I hear more complexity and groove in 2005's patched-together Maarifa Street than I did at the time. But ever since his fateful 1980 collaboration with Brian Eno, atmospheric gestalt rather than flesh-and-blood pulse has been his calling. Like Miles Davis in his lost-and-found '70s, Hassell has long raised keyboards to parity with a trumpet that never aspires to the clarity and speed of masters from Armstrong to Marsalis. At 81, he's explored that parity for half his life, seldom more calmingly than on this self-release. Ever the avant-gardist, he insists that his latest music has a synesthetic relationship to the paintings of his dear friend Mati Klarwein. But we don't have to go there. If you're merely seeking something to soothe and engage simultaneously, this will perform that anxiety-easing, life-enhancing, aesthetically self-sufficient trick even better than usual. A-

Jon Hassell: Seeing Through Sound: Pentimento Volume Two [Ndeya, 2020]
As I've learned by endeavoring to distinguish this somewhat busier soundscape from volume one, a single variant is probably all any ordinary seeker after the esoterically restful can put to use ("Fearless," "Reykjavik") ***