Album Review: Brian Eno - Reflection

I spent 54 minutes of my New Year’s Eve listening to the new piece from Brian Eno, Reflection. Arriving around seven months after The Ship, Reflection finds the musician and composer, now almost 70, returning to what he does best: making introspective, nearly non-existent, long gestating ambient soundscapes.

Serving as a follow up of sorts to 2012’s four-part Lux, Reflection treads similar ground; however, here, it’s not broken up into sections that seamlessly blend into one another. Reflection is one, solid 54-minute piece, intended for consumption as a whole.

It seems worth noting that for my inaugural listen of Reflection, I listened to it over my stereo’s speakers, but for each subsequent listen, I have learned it is best absorbed through a pair of headphones.

Yes, I loathe the expression “headphone record,” but when it comes to ambient music that is, simply putting it, this ambient—you’re going to want an intimate setting; you’re going to want the music as close to you as possible, because Reflection, much like Lux, or Eno’s unfuckwithable Music For Airports, it’s music that draws you in—it’s music you get lost in.

Taking on a 54-minute piece of music—even a quiet one like this—is a bit of an intimidating task. Where do you start? Well you obviously start at the beginning. But how do you keep track of it? Do you take notes about things that occur at various times? Or do you just let the whole thing wash over you?

Reflection rarely deviates from its course. It never rushes, or changes the speed with which the sounds are delivered. Even when Eno lets the reverberations play out, and allows the silence to creep in, it’s all done very deliberately and in a very reserved way. He also doesn’t stray very far from the instrumentation he uses—favoring xylophone bar plunkings, and various pooling synthesizers noises throughout. The combination is, again, very reminiscent of Lux, and it works to create a very warm, and welcoming sound, which he then juxtaposes with those chilly, silent gaps in notes, and the occasional odd/silly sounding whirring noise.

It’s winter. It’s cold (below zero these days) and bleak outside. Life slows down during these days and the pace with which this piece unfolds is (wait for it) a reflection of that.  And yes, the idea of sitting down with a 54-minute piece of ambient music that barely rises above a whisper is a little tough to wrap one’s head around, and seems inaccessible at first, but Eno does his best to, rather than keeping the audience at an arm’s length, extends the invitation for you to lose yourself in the soundscape he is working within.

The expression “lose yourself” is also important to keep in mind when discussing a lot of ambient/experimental music, but particularly Reflection. It can be all too easy to write off instrumental music, or slow moving music like this, as something to have on in the background. However, any good ambient composer can structure something that, over time, will take a hold of you and grab your attention as it runs its course, and Reflection will do that to you. If you have this on while you are working on something else, you’ll notice that eventually, you’ll be less focused on your task, and concentrating more on Eno’s ebbing and flowing tones and reverberating notes.

With 40 years into his storied career, Eno is a legend—both as a producer as well as an artist in his own right. While The Ship was a bit of a misstep for me, Reflection shows that Eno is still a master at this aspect of his craft.

Also, PS—for what it’s worth, we’re only a few days into 2017, but without a doubt, the cover art for Reflection has to be the worst of the year. It looks like a photo taken using the Photo Booth app on your MacBook.