Friday, April 30, 2010

Evening Star



When King Crimson head honcho Robert Fripp and former Roxy Music egghead Brian Eno teamed up for ‘Evening Star’, their prototypical ambient-music project in 1975, little did they know that the record that came out of those sessions would virtually set the benchmark for all similarly natured albums to come. Of course, the industry had not started to use the term “ambient music” back then, and nothing like ‘Evening Star’ had appeared in the marketplace before. Therefore, the album was understandably confounding in its scope, especially to record-company suits, who must have been scratching their heads as to how to market such a record. Nevertheless, it did find a highly acclaimed niche amongst fans of experimental rock, who deemed it as a genuinely groundbreaking opus that paved the way for the popular ambient-techno movement of the 1990s and beyond.

The wondrous and otherworldly sonic textures of ‘Evening Star’ are now available again, in a newly remastered version that successfully brings out all the minute, detailed nuances of the music. This remastering gives new life especially to the album’s Frippertronics, an inventive, original tape-looping technique developed by Fripp that endlessly loops treated guitar lines to create a lush, otherworldly soundscape that had no aural precedent. Add to that Eno’s innovatively layered synth-chord patterns, and you have an album that stands heads and shoulders above any of its then-contemporaries, and by extension, anything else in the scene today.

The opening ‘Wind on Water’ is a slowly unfolding, intricate composition that eventually reveals a cluster of monophonic synth tones, over which Fripp performs a languid, space-enhancing solo. This segues effortlessly into the title track, a gentle, repetitive tonal construct that is assembled from Fripp’s sustained, melodic guitar notes and Eno’s serene-sounding electric-piano scales.

Elsewhere, ‘Evensong’ is an ebbing, pastoral piece that evokes the calm harmonic structures used by late-19th century Impressionist composers like Satie and Debussy, while ‘Wind on Wind’ is a stellar example of Eno’s patented “discreet music”, a seamlessly tiered and static musical form that uses an experimental sequencing method as its sonic basis. However, the arguable highlight of ‘Evening Star’ has to be the epic, appropriately named 30-minute ‘An Index of Metals’. This is an ominous, industrial-informed behemoth that stands as one of the most accomplished pieces of so-called “drone music”, made from atonal synth chords gathered in an endlessly repeating loop, with dissonant Frippertronics on top as sound garnishing.

In retrospect, ‘Evening Star’ is a highly literate and lyrical album that has, for want of a better term, stood the test of time, and very well at that. Nothing like it has emerged since its release three-and-a-half decades ago, and modern-day ambient outfits like The Orb and Future Sound of London practically owe their entire careers to the standard set by ‘Evening Star’. By turns brilliant, meditative and mercurial, ‘Evening Star’ is one of those albums that truly belongs within the hallowed annals of rock-music renown, and this new, remastered edition only serves to confirm its innate stature and authority.

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