Brian Eno – Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks

February 5, 2007


Space travel has never really interested me, for numerous reasons including how boring it must be to just go out into outer space and sit in a space station or something. If I want to see the stars or nebulaes or whatever, I’ll just go out in the middle of Montana or something and lie on the ground and watch the stars. Going on a shuttle and out of our earths atmosphere doesn’t really get you any closer to the stars that you dream of. The fact that Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks gets past these realities make it just as essential as some of Eno’s other popular pieces. The problem is that one needs to treat it in the right light and let it take you away.

I say that because it is extremely easy to listen to Brian Eno and just think about whatever the title tells you. It’s easy to imagine an airport during Music For Airports, and a plateau in The Plateaux of Mirrors. It is simmilarly easy for one to imagine the moon or outer space when listening to Apollo, and by outer space I mean the real outer space, and how truly boring it is. If you are floating in outer space, you are kind of close to weightless so that is pretty cool. But you are also lonely, probably close to death, bored out of your mind, and worried. What Apollo does is sort of transcend any images we can already recognize as reality, and in that sense it is the true victory of Eno’s ambient catalogue. It is evocative of outer space, but not an outer space we know. Picture if looking out into the night sky was more interesting, and everything in the universe was a tad closer together, and there were more nebulaes and planets and moons and shooting stars and such to see in the night sky; a more colorful night. And now don’t restrict yourself necessarily to floating out in the middle of space. You can if you want, but you could also be watching from earth too. And you don’t have to be all deep about looking out into space, and you don’t have to think about whether or not we are alone or if there is a meaning to life. Are you relaxed yet?

This is not my favorite Eno album, and it does have it’s problems. The cover art sucks, for one thing. Of all the things to put on an album that shouldn’t be associated with the moon… How silly. The moon, while beautiful in it’s own way, is desolate, grey, lonely, and in the middle of nowhere. Once again, this album is not the night sky you know. Other problems I have are with a few individual songs. One of those is The Secret Place, and while it was a good enough idea, it’s not a priceless track like the rest. It has important ideas and details like the other songs, but not ideas that meld extremely well. The drums are discreet and cool, and the almost ocean-like synthesizers make sense in the context of an underwater setting, but it’s not an enjoyable listen, as being in a dark underwater expanse is NOT FUN. Or maybe just not for me. At least in outer space I can turn my head and not see a giant sea monster swallow me up. In the ocean you don’t know what the hell is going on. But the songs follower Matta sort of does the same thing better, more like feeling like you are on a quiet eerie dock, all dressed up with whale sounds and deep echoes. And what a comparison that is; the depths of space to a deep ocean! To have the universe be filled withouter space animals would be interesting. Just picture whales in the sky, just for a moment. Eno’s goal with ambient music was always to create an environment without images or words in conjunction with the listeners imagination. On all of the songs here he does the job well. But quite simply, some songs are more enjoyable than others to listen to, as effective as most of them are.

This is actually probably the most structured and melodic of all of Eno’s ambient works. Not that every song is structured, because about half the album is complex chord tones and discreet atmospheres. But there are few tracks that could actually be considered songs, much in the wake of Another Green World’s instrumentals. Right about when the album hits Silver Morning it starts getting very accessible and song based, up until the last song Stars which is sort of a combination. Silver Morning is actually more of a big relaxing almost southern American guitar solo, all dressed up in down home slides. That sort of twang carries through the pseudo lullaby Deep Blue Day, and it almost contradicts itself. It has a chugalong pace and a relaxing centerpiece melody, but the synthesizers are too vast to truly be relaxing or sleep-inducing. The effect isn’t by any means failed or anything, but are very interesting, almost too interesting to be discreet like ambient music should be and conversely too non-intrusive to hold ones ear for too long. Consequently this music is very much an album you want to give a full listen and understand fully, but it really takes a while, because this is by no means the epitomy of ambient music. It has more feeling, that much is for sure. It just doesn’t hit all the right qualifications.

The moodier pieces are probably the better ones though. Always Returning is sort of a combination of melody and atmosphere. It has a repeating synth line that gets closer to a flat out lullaby, and it is tired and flexible enough to represent a number of things to the listener, including a weary city and it’s weary people at very late hours. One clear winner is An Ending (Ascent) in all of it’s shifting beauty and subtlety. Another is Under Stars II, but it’s less of a touching piece and more of a mellow outing.

This is really not an album that my words can do justice to. And I don’t mean to say that with an air of pretentiousness that this album is ingenious or perfect. It’s not. It’s not even my favorite of Eno’s ambient pieces. But it is very good for those who chose to understand it in their own ways. And for gods sake don’t think about the goddam moon when you listen to this, unless you really want to. I reiterate; Eno’s music was never meant to paint a specific picture so much as a tangible feeling that the listener can latch on to subconciously. You aren’t supposed to listen to this album feverishly pointing out to yourself what you do and don’t like, because it is supposed to be in the background. Like every ambient album, there will be songs you do and don’t like, that work and don’t work, and that is fine. Ambient music doesn’t work at it’s best on an album basis, like other music does, if you would even call this music. But for all intents and purposes, Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks is Ambient V, and it should be treated in the same way as all of Eno’s other ambient albums.


One comment

  1. My utter fave moment of eno: http://wallernotweller.wordpress.com/2010/05/24/review-brian-eno-apollo-atmosphere-and-soundtracks-e-g/

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