Brian Eno is a man who needs no introduction. Despite pushing 70, he continues to make albums almost every year. His previous album, Reflection, released on the first day of 2017, was merely a by-the-numbers ambient release which felt like a regression after the slightly more ambitious The Ship. Thus, in recent years, his best works have come from playing off others’ ideas; manipulating and expanding on them as per his trademark.
Finding Shore sees him team up with Tom Rogerson, an improvisational pianist with a somewhat eclectic background. He has most prominently played as part of the very kinetic, electronically-flavoured math/post-rock band Three Trapped Tigers. However, his work here has nothing to do with that – instead, Rogerson finds his own element under the ever-creative guidance of Eno. The collaboration was spawned from a chance encounter and their subsequent bond over their roots around Woodbridge, Suffolk, which this record evokes – some of the track titles even directly referencing locations in the area.
The order of names on the album’s billing is no coincidence, as Rogerson’s impressionistic playing is very much at the center of this record. Eno acts as more of a musical director, helping to flesh out Rogerson’s ideas and contributing trademark embellishments and edits throughout. Eno’s trademark instrument treatments and layering is also noticeable, with Rogerson’s piano either dancing around or falling into line with it.
The first sound heard on the album is a mysterious chiming sound, which sounds like wine glasses being gently struck, perhaps evoking the bells of Woodbridge. There is a great sense of space, anticipation, and when Rogerson’s piano enters, it feels like a flood of light streaming in, making this piece very evocative of a sunrise. The piano ebbs and flows over what sounds like chimes, like sunlight reflecting off water, perhaps the River Deben itself. At track 11, “An Iken Loop” is like the counterpoint sunset to the sunrise in the album opener. The piece came from a 45-minute improvisation session, which Eno cut up into a Satie-inspired loop. “Motion in Field” marries the digital with the pastoral. The vintage progressive electronic backing contrasts beautifully with Rogerson’s splashes of piano, giving the piece a great sense of constant motion. “On-ness”, while very pretty also, sadly fails to evoke much of anything in particular, aside from perhaps building on the atmosphere of the previous piece in a more low-key manner.
However, many of the pieces step away from piano-based ambiance, instead relying on more eclectic, difficult to identify instrumentation. There are some that are more like glimpses of a particular scene, seeming to have no clear beginning or end – one could have the impression that these pieces go on indefinitely, even after they fade out. “March Away” is built around a loop of what sounds like a muted hang drum, giving it a dull, metallic sound that brings to mind a more industrial setting. It also may be the most relatively dark piece on the album, indeed sounding like an ominous march towards some unknown foggy reaches. “The Gabbard” (likely referring to the wind farm off the shore of Suffolk) merely alternates between two repeated melodic figures, but it never overstays its welcome. The piece has a sense of excitement and anticipation bubbling underneath the surface, brought out by the rolling synthesized pings, which could correspond to the wind turbines spinning.
Some of the pieces sound disorienting and jarring, with Eno’s stuttering edits dominating “Red Slip”, in a style reminiscent of artists Eno influenced directly, such as Tim Hecker or Oneohtrix Point Never. And then, some of the pieces are more purely ambient, like the quivering overcast atmospherics of “Minor Rift”, sounding like a gathering storm, or the mysterious “Quoit Blue” like exploring the woods at dusk. “Marsh Chorus” is something in between – in title, it is immediately reminiscent of “Lantern Marsh” off Eno’s 1982 album Ambient 4: On Land. It perhaps serves as a brighter counterpart to the unease of that original piece; its arpeggios like a bright light breaking through the bulrushes, conveying a sense of wonder and fascination. The use of dissonance throughout reminds us that this place may not be entirely friendly, but it never feels dark, even after the light goes off for the more low-key outro. However, there is not much structurally separating it from some of the shorter pieces, or that it could not have done in three or four minutes. The fact that the all of the longer pieces are somewhat clumped together towards the end may also not have been the best sequencing choice, coming after the more snappy pieces of the first half.
The album is brought to a close by two of its less memorable pieces, however, there are still likeable aspects to them both – “Chain Home” makes compelling use of dissonance, as well as using a subtle electronic percussion and closing out with a chaotic noise loop, while “Rest” rounds it out with very pretty melodies and shimmering instrumentation, giving the album a calm and contented resolve, ending with a low drone.
With Finding Shore, Eno continues to make music for spaces. However, this time the spaces are natural and feel more active, alive and curious. At times, this record is reminiscent of the kind of spaces Eno & co. created with Another Green World (1975) or Ambient 4: On Land (1982), though in a much more pastoral setting and with little semblance of the darkness of the latter. A fine album, and I look forward to hearing more from Tom Rogerson.