Even for a respected artist and pioneer of electronic music, mixing original productions with spoken-word poetry can prove problematic. Such is the case with Drums Between the Bells, Brian Eno’s collaborative album with poet Rick Holland and his second release for the Warp imprint.
In all honesty, Eno probably has a spotty relationship with most XLR8R readers—yes, he's rightfully considered a godfather of ambient music and has consistently been an innovative mind for decades now, but one would be hard pressed to find an avid listener of contemporary electronic music who enjoys every effort to his name. In his simplest role, Eno is a sonic adventurer, but not all adventures yield the same results, and this particular outing has returned with little that resonates in the current musical landscape. It's a shame, especially considering that the individual elements—that is Eno's music and Holland's words—can be strong statements on their own. Eno's productions show flashes of sonic brilliance and Holland's poetry is at times striking and moving in its simplicity. Yet somehow, when put together, the artists' individual strengths are watered down, resulting in a mixture of the benign and the over-the-top, depending on the particular song.
For all that, there are a few shining moments to be found on Drums Between the Bells, particularly in the album's sole instrumental (and most ridiculously titled) contribution "as if your eyes were partly closed as if you honed the swirl within them and offered me the world," whose pillowy soft melody and beautiful ambiance brings to mind a less triumphant M83 (who in turn was undoubtedly influenced by Eno at some point). The LP's other standout, "multimedia," takes a completely different form, finding a peculiar place between middle-aged-hip-hop-funk and epic synth work, which sounds crazy but actually works rather well. The most succinct collaborations between the two artists can be found on the album's closing tracks, "cloud 4" and "breath of crows," which mark the only efforts where the two artists move in a cohesive mood and direction.
That said, Drums Between the Bells has just has too many missteps to overlook, with tracks like "sounds alien" and "dow" being almost unlistenable. Perhaps there is a community within which this kind of artistic statement can really make an imprint, and, who knows, maybe they know something we don't.