Brian Eno's best recordings are timeless. Even his great recordings are practically timeless. His recordings after the '80s, however, gradually acquired a different description: dated. Released in 1992, Nerve Net attempted to cross both his ambient and pop records of the '70s with faddish techno, while The Drop invoked his ambient period to a sterilizing effect. (Even ambient records need some ambience.) His work of the 2000s was heavily collaborational, fortunately showing him to be still curious about the varieties of musical expression -- beyond what he's been able to display while producing for U2 and Coldplay. Small Craft on a Milk Sea regains the timeless, ageless feel of his best ambient work. It stands as his first record for Warp, a label that has long worshiped at the altar of headphone electronica, although much of this album is the fruit of sessions originally recorded (but declined) for the Lovely Bones soundtrack; some of it was written and recorded by Eno and frequent collaborator Leo Abrahams while they were touring Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, Eno's 2008 pop album with David Byrne. Warp has been known for quality control for over 20 years, and this one is no different -- it's the best Eno record in 20 years (although that's not saying much). The opener, "Emerald and Lime," is a piece of bright ambience -- as close to a Starbucks soundtrack as a stereotypical Eno work can get. The title track has the dark textures of the later ambient works (Ambient 4: On Land), while the middle section has nods to contemporary electronic music -- "Flint March" is pummeling, percussive techno, and the next track, "Horse," also indulges -- then it's back to opaque, spacious ambience with "Calcium Needles" and "Emerald and Stone." Here too, some tracks have the earthy bass of Ambient 4: On Land, others the formless but inviting void of Discreet Music, still others the heart-stopping piano isolationism of the original Ambient 1: Music for Airports. Eno may be trading on his earlier developments in ambience to a small degree, but Small Craft on a Milk Sea is a good and proper balance of curiosity and expression.
AllMusic Review by John Bush