Roger Eno creates bucolic soundscapes, patiently letting each simple melody unfold. In a career that stretches back decades, the British composer has collaborated with a number of top ambient artists, including his older brother Brian Eno and new-age multi-instrumentalist Laraaji. On The turning yearhe goes solo, demonstrating a keen sense of delicate, unadorned melodies that serve as vectors for reflection.
The turning year features compositions both new and old, each illuminating Eno’s talent for creating balayage palettes. Each piece follows a similar pattern: lush strings played by Score Berlin swirl around simple, melancholy piano melodies reminiscent of one of Eno’s favorite composers, Erik Satie. It is cinematic music, animated by sprawling harmonies and fluid movements. Rather than dreaming of the future, these nostalgic pieces feel like looking into the past, taking in the bigger picture of the changes that occur throughout life.
A lot of The turning year constructed from short, looping piano phrases that are enveloped by hot strings. The opener “A Place We Once Walked” is emblematic of this style: it begins with a pensive melody that slowly tumbles and repeats, each time with a little more emphasis than the last. Gradually, the piano melds with lively strings that add richness and sparkle to her stark, introverted melodies. Eno employs a similar tactic throughout, but it works best on the radiant ‘The Turning Year’, where the gleaming keyboard melody and deep, full-bodied strings combine in a particularly bold and resonant way.
But the instruments stick out in other places, leading to a feeling of restraint, even hesitation. In these moments of disconnection, Eno’s overall structure falters. “Something Made Out of Nothing” develops from a slow piano melody full of pauses and echoes, while the strings appear like a wispy cloud around it, soft but far too thin. It’s like none of the performers were sure what was coming next. This unease shines through elsewhere too, like “On the Horizon”, which introduces a clarinet into a stilted conversation with the piano. In its uncertainty, the piece lacks the slowed-down, reflective feeling that makes Eno’s music compelling.
In the moments where each element fits together, however, Eno manages to capture how music can mimic the fluidity of memory. As if trying to color memories that have become hazy, his nostalgic compositions and suspended movements often mimic the feeling of trying to recall memories that have lost their shape. Its drifting sonic waves obscure detail, blurring the mechanics of its melodies and leaving us with only their melancholic spirit.