The Drop b/w scan

Page updated 9th August 1997

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Early July 1997 saw the release of Brian Eno's new album, The Drop. It seems to be upsetting quite a few people: it's not quite what they were expecting. But there's one thing you can always be sure of with a Brian Eno album - you can't be sure of it. My reactions when hearing the two Drop tracks on the Glitters Is Gold sampler began with "What's he up to this time?", sailed through "Am I missing something here?", washed up on the shores of "Is that it?" and were finally grabbed by the giant spider crab of "It's not quite what I was expecting." Yet within two weeks I had become a willing convert to these pieces. With the mighty Drop talisman, I became rich beyond my wildest dreams. I now have four cars, a luxury dream home, and I have become irresistible to the opposite sex. Admittedly, that's only the opposite sex when it comes to wildebeeste, but it's a start.

So how did this miracle occur? Two things: this new style of music, "Drop Music" as Brian refers to it, has an insidious nature that enables it to inveigle itself into your enthusiasm without you even noticing. Half an hour after you've dismissed one of these tracks for not being particularly engaging, you can find yourself trying to hum its elusive melody. Secondly, there is more depth in the pieces on The Drop than you realise at first. To begin with, all you notice is the surface. After a few listens, you begin to notice little textures, patterns of notes and acoustic tricks that you might swear weren't there before. This makes the album unsuitable for playing solely in a car, as you'll miss many of the subtleties - apart from during "Iced World", when you'll wonder why your engine fan keeps going on.

Over a plate of bangers and mash at his local Greasy Spoon, Brian confided to the EnoWeb that Drop music is "like living now - this music makes me feel alive." People who have learnt Brian's Diary off by heart will recall that he enthused about "the 'stretched' space" of this style of music, "that AD 2008 club feeling we got on the Outside sessions". Drop music (formerly known as "Outsider Jazz" - which itself was formerly known as "Unwelcome Jazz") is next step on for the ideas which emerged most recently on Nerve Net with tracks like "Juju Space Jazz"; the "hidden" track on Spinner also falls into this category, and to prove it, appears in its original 30-minute guise as "Iced World", the final track on the album, with that insistent dripping tap, fast-typing rhythm, cold piano and occasional humming fan.

The more I think about this music, the more examples I find in earlier works - "Sombre Reptiles", "In Dark Trees", the opening of "Sky Saw" on Another Green World; "M386", "A Measured Room" and "Task Force" on Music for Films. You got insistent rhythm, you got music that has a strange melody. Who could ask for anything more? The Drop fills a similar niche to those two albums in that its pieces come on, make their point, and then move off again.

Two of the tracks from the new album, "Swanky" and "Blissed", appear in longer form on the 1997 All Saints sampler, Glitters Is Gold (ASCD31, which also includes tracks by Harold Budd, Jah Wobble, Biosphere, Kate St John and Roger Eno). Given Brian's enthusiasm for Drop music, it is perhaps surprising that his new album should open with two ambient pieces rather than launching straight into his new genre, but he's probably old enough to make his own decisions now. The Drop is no stranger to television: followers of the Neil Gaiman television series Neverwhere will recognise two pieces of music from its soundtrack, here named "Rayonism" and "Back Clack", and Drop pieces were also much in evidence on the first part of the Stewart Brand series How Buildings Learn currently being broadcast in the UK.

The Drop went through several name changes before a final decision was made: Outsider Jazz, Swanky, Today On Earth, Neo and Hup!. Now That's What I Call Generative Music! It is available on the All Saints label in the UK (ASCD32), on Thirsty Ear/ADA in the US & Canada, and Rough Trade in Germany/Switzerland (RTD CD 310.0032.2)... and All Saints has distributors all over the rest of the world too. Running time is just over 74 minutes. The Japanese version includes a bonus 3" CD with three exclusive Drop pieces: "Swat & Rut", "Slicing System" and "Sharply Cornered", which sounds as though it may be a Koan piece. -- Tom

The EnoWeb has an exclusive English-language version of an interview conducted by Michael Engelbrecht for Jazzthetik magazine in March 1996, in which Brian discussed his plans for this album before its release was delayed for a year. Click here to read it.


"The Drop is the name of the record and Drop is the name of the new type of music invented and explored on this record. It's as if you had explained jazz to someone from a distant planet without ever playing them any examples of it and they tried to do some on the basis of your rather scant explanation. It's quite melodic, actually, this record. There are lots of melodies on it, although they move in an angular and slightly irrational fashion, so they are very long and rambling. They remind me a little bit of heat-seeking missiles; they keep changing direction, trying find out where they are going. They don't have a very strong focus to them. I like this; I like the vagueness to them.

"I find myself liking sourness more and more and not enjoying pop as much because it's not sour enough. It doesn't have enough emotional complexity for me sometimes. That's what I find myself looking for. It may be just simply over-familiarity with the way music has been for a long time. I'm quite happy to go somewhere else with it now. In fact the records I've listened to most over the last few years have been harmonically complex records, for example Me'Shell Ms Ndegeoceno who plays something which is sort of funk/pop/jazz or something like that - I don't know how you'd describe it. But the interesting thing about it is that it's in a harmonic territory which definitely comes from jazz, but in a rhythmic territory that definitely comes from funk and dance music. Now all of those things have their own kind of force to them which is not found in the charts that much. And I like them. When I put those records on I think, this is the music of now. It just sounds more modern to me. I want to feel that I really am living at the end of the 20th Century instead of in 1960 or something.

"Two threads that I've been carrying for a long time and haven't properly integrated into my work have appeared in this. One is African music, particularly the music of Fela Kuti, the Nigerian band leader. I listen to that stuff over and over and over again. I have more albums by him than by any other single artist. I listen particularly to the way the bass is used; that's what really interests me about these records. The use of the bass as an instrument that is both percussive and melodic at the same time.

"The other thread from a long time ago which always surprised my friends in the 70's, is the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The labyrinthine melodies they made - very complicated, long melodies; I really like the way they constructed their music.

"I really don't want to do something that's well covered by a lot of other people. My pleasure and pride is in discovering new places for music to go and whether I have succeeded or not is another matter. I get very excited when I think I'm making something that I've never quite heard before. That seems to make sense to me. I don't get that excited if I think I'm working in a form that has been well used. That's what I like about samplers; pasting bits of the world into what you do and getting all of the non-musical associations that go with it - all of the associations of place and time and climate and so on. And so I guess I want to work with materials that aren't so obviously musical. In fact I would say that I want to make something that isn't music, really."


"Three years in the making, this Ben Hur of new music consolidates my position as the Cecil B. De Mille of the modern LP, the Cecil Rhodes of Ambience, and the Cecil Taylor of the synthesizer."


"I found myself playing things that had these strange, angular, somewhat sour melodies which didn't quite go right. They kept turning funny corners. There's an obscure landscape in terms of the sonic area it's in, and the melodies take you through a very peculiar walk through that landscape.''


"In his search for new musical territories, Eno sometimes creates works that even he isn't ready for yet. This is another reason why Drop took five years to make. When he first recorded some of the tracks on the record, he wasn't sure that he liked them. They languished on shelves for months, or even years, before he rediscovered them, and decided they did make musical sense after all . . .

"While the music on Drop certainly sounds new, you can trace its roots back through earlier Eno works. The track Blissed could have made an appearance on Low, for example, while Black Clack bears some resemblance to the instrumental pieces on Heroes, and M C Organ has echoes of Eno's early 1990s album, Nerve Net. There are some quieter pieces on the record, but overall the music has a loose, bouncy, rubbery feel to it. It's groove-driven, with bold surprising, angular keyboard solos on top. You have to get up and move to it."

MARK EDWARDS, The Sunday Times Online, June 22 1997
© Copyright 1997 Times Newspapers Limited

". . . a collection of carefully assembled ambient/instrumental doodles that proceed with an airless and utterly glacial calm. Eno may be on the brink of something new here, as he has been so often in the past. But while it is one thing to admire the questing spirit of The Drop, there is a cold, eerie quality (what he calls 'sourness') to this music that makes it difficult to love."

DAVID SINCLAIR, The Times, July 4 1997
© Copyright 1997 Times Newspapers Limited

"The Drop, his latest outing, apparently employs a technique of artificial composition using software algorithms, which, needless to say, is neither here nor there so far as the end-user is concerned. This music, to be brutally frank, is thunderingly boring -- virtually devoid of harmonic life and presented desultorily in the form of a set of brief, unsustained, and undeveloped sonic line-sketches . . . what's missing is Eno's strongest card: his water-colourist sensitivity to atmosphere, landscape and mood."

IAN MACDONALD, Uncut, August 1997
© Copyright 1997 IPC Magazines Ltd

"The Drop has a bit of jazzy fusion, , a few simple ditties, one or two stonking tracks (Blissed is great) and that's it ... Brian Eno is very clever and he has done some superb stuff, but now you get the impression that he's hiding behind the intelligent music label while secretly laughing his way to the bank, wondering what the hell it's all about himself."

Andy Jones, Future Music, August 1997
© Copyright 1997 Future Publishing

"... 16 impeccable instrumental miniatures before the 30-minute Iced World, where pristine keyboard notes form in clusters over a ticking rhythmm and keyboard drones. Eno's always wanted to push his music into new areas, and here it's so seductive it doesn't matter that it's not taking you anywhere in particular."

Mike Barnes, MOJO, August 1997
© Copyright 1997 EMAP Metro

Brian Eno is playing with forgetting, and he makes a jazz record, which, of course, isn't one ... sounds through from very far away. Like Chinese Whispers in the Internet. The parallels vanish in a pure blue space. Melodic motives move in delicate zigzag lines. Vague and daring. Suddenly, what the intellect perceives as an unfinished sound sketch, the heart finds perfect. Not one note too few! It starts with an arabic essence: a note is bent, flexed, all a question of flying skills. Out of static grooves, melodic motives bubble like fountains. Where to go? Into the uncertain! Into the abstraction of memory! Strangely factual, at the same time strangely enthusiastic ... playing with jazz, only materializing above the beats, in the improvisations and well-dosed samples: a drum roll gets driven to the horizon by an unreal echo, a precious sound of a grand piano gets smuggled into the completely-electronic. The Drop presents complex emptied music, miles apart from Drum & Bass and Post-Jungle and Pre-Shuckle and Dream-Strip and Illbient and Clone Cool. This music is a stroke of luck, outwitting the modern dingaling machine sound and easy listening. One could almost think this CD is falling out of time a little bit ...

Michael Engelbrecht, Klanghorizonte, Deutschlandfunk July 1997 & JAZZTHETIK magazine, September 1997
© Copyright 1997 Michael Engelbrecht; Translator: Ulrich "Bommel" Bomnüter

"This is smooth and runny music, livelied up by gentle bibbles and dweeps. Archetypally ambient, it is laid-back but never boring, somnambulant, but entertainingly so ... Music for Films, On Land, and particularly After The Heat ... spring to mind as reference points. That said, this is stripped back further, barely, but perhaps more tellingly embellished, with rhythms that pulse softly rather than throb, drift rather than anchor ... quietly affecting, cool but never pompous. It is utterly compelling in a have- it- on- in- the- background kind of way."

Ross Fortune, Time Out, 2 July 1997
© Copyright 1997 Time Out

"It's no chart-topping heat-seeker. It's a brooding instrumental album tilted more toward the ambient than the rock side of the spectrum. It's a quirky, dark-tinged, snaking effort - soundscapes that hint at the dirt and worms that lurk underneath the pretty foliage."

Jim Sullivan, The Boston Globe
© Copyright 1997 The Boston Globe

"Synth melodies hover between Erik Satie and Bill Frisell, the notes hanging in the air like soap bubbles. Harmonically disconfigured scales drift vaguely along, now evoking zen-like koto, now a pallid atonality, now karaoke. Pop and jazz are there impressionistically, but in a dimensionless, non-stick way. 'MC Organ' has a definite bass popping swing, but without any punch, and beneath a synth line like a perfumed blanket. 'Boom Cubist' could have a dub feel if the on-the-one beat wasn't just a hollow 'chock'. Elsewhere there's funk without the funk; suspense without drama; nostalgia without memories ... There's disquiet here, but only as a tonal component, a sweetly frozen uncertainty. Hence the overtones of melancholy and emptiness. For the person who has everything: a charm against remembering something else."

Matt Ffytche, The Wire, August 1997
© Copyright 1997 Matt Ffytche / The Wire Magazine Ltd

"Over 74 minutes, The Drop moves, wordlessly, from undulating (Slip, Dip, Hazard) and throbbing (Back Clack), to spookily East European (Block Drop, Out/Out) and sexily rhythmic (Dear World, Boomcubist) ... nice, but inauspicious."

Andrew Collins, Q, September 1997
© Copyright 1997 EMAP METRO

"Pretty hard to describe or drop into genre of other Eno releases... someone told me that in context, listening to this compared to Nerve Net made them no longer resent Nerve Net, which is an interesting statement to me. I didn't really resent Nerve Net but did find it feeling bitter and distant, and I find The Drop more pondering, melodic but of course feeling unresolved and searching, as Eno usually feels to me. Funny to me that he mentions a thread of interest in Mahavishnu Orchestra of the 70's in this work as it's an influence not overtly present, yet promo and interview notes from Eno say he fuses his interest in African music and Fela in this with his interest in Mahavishnu's "complicated long melodies."

I suspect that, at least for Brian, this latest is as adventurous and exploring for him as Mahavishnu was 25 years ago, And yet also exploring, as he ackowledges, Fela Kuti's music -- an artist who Eno claims to have 36 albums by -- more than any other single artist Eno listens to. Eno talks about the use of bass as both percussive and melodic at the same time in Fela music. What I find interesting in the reference to Fela is that Fela's music is inherently derivative of itself.

A radio DJ from Trinidad, Anthony Cooper, introduced me to Fela circa 1980 around the same time Eno and the Talking Heads started to acknowledge Fela, who is something like a fusion of James Brown and Miles Davis with a political voice in his home country; he described Fela as the same forwards or backwards, and he was right! Fela is so derivative of himself that in a way, every song explores the same melodies, but differently, and drawn out into long explorations of similar themes.

And that's a good way to describe Eno's latest, The Drop, with its drawn out explorations of similar melodic themes, minimalistic derivatives that sound at times more like remixes of earlier 90s works, and yet it feels like a new and cohesive work as a whole and sort of alien Eno, not really something you can file with his vocal or ambient releases, it is effectively a new genre for Eno.

It hints at being generative, as if the main melodies explored throughout are some generative path run amok through various backing track contexts. As usual for Eno there's some unusual juxtapositions at play here in the layering of his music, but with a sparser, more "limited choices and voices" feel than some of Eno's denser collaborations. I think the point to this is that on first listen it sounds sparse, but reveals a denser quality through repeated and ambient contexts, but with a more complex, disturbed and toe-tapping quality than most of Eno's ambient works."

Comments from a contributor to the newsgroup

Page by Tom Boon, with thanks to Lin Barkass, Derek Turnbull, Bommel, Pierluigi Marchetti and Mukamuk.

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