Daniel Lanois ‘Flesh And Machine’ ( ANTI-) 27th October 2014.
A musical polymath in every sense of the world, the Canadian producer-guitarist-vocalist-songwriter, collaborator of discerning taste (we’ll forgive him for U2), Daniel Lanois’ eclectic roll call stretches from Martha And The Muffins to Peter Gabriel and Bob Dylan. Renowned for his production skills (three Grammy awards and counting), Lanois sits comfortably straddling the abstract and mainstream; moving subtly between country, rock, blues, trance and pop.
He also knows his way around the palatial expanses and strata of ambient music. A past sparring partner, often referred to as a protégé, of the ambient progenitor Brian Eno, Lanois, in various roles, famously collaborated on his albums for the E.G. Records label in the Eighties: including Ambient 4: On Land, Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks, More Music For Films and Thursday Afternoon.
Continuing to irk out a new musical dialogue ever since, Lanois has locked himself away recently to explore and create the “never before experienced” sound; undistracted and closed off from the contemporary explorations and developments of his peers, he strives to produce a futuristic, visionary mood. Certainly a contender, he nevertheless falls short in his experiments; crafting sublime magical passages and effects certainly, but fallen short of engineering something truly revolutionary in sound.
If anything this most recent solo album, Flesh And Machine, is a timeline link back to those iconic Eno suites: building on the sweeping, venerable and flights of fantasy into the stratosphere foundations, but offering something technologically fresh and inviting from the “now”. As the title suggest, this diaphanously panoramic suite blends the organic and mechanised together, processing the source sound palette of voice, piano, steel and electric guitars into an impressive, and at times stirring, experience (nominated for the “Headphone album of the year award”).
From the very first gentle strokes of the piano and, Anthony Hegarty like, heavenly dulcet vocal tones on the introductory ‘Rocco’, the album levitates over dreamy vistas or searches the elements for direction. Each narrative and journey, signposted for an emotional response to a landscape or mood; from the submerged watery reverb and dolphin-esque guitar cradled cries of ‘Aquatic’ to the kookier, Tropicana-twanged, paean ‘My First Love’ and one-long majestic, awe-inspired finale ‘Forrest City’ (Lanois inviting us take in the expansive scenery of nature).
It’s not all Eno-esque escapism and venerated habitat, Lanois kicking up a wild, flailing guitar and tumultuous, cymbal heavy, drum backed cacophony of Ash Ra Tempel meets Fuck Buttons, on the unruly extemporized performed, ‘The End’. Highly charged with the most moving sensibilities, this caustic fired riot of progressive yearning and searching melodrama is the heaviest instrumental on the album, though he also channels the ancestral lament of the native Indian with a somewhat ominous rotating echo and dampened, moody tribal patted beat on ‘Sioux Lookout’, and uses a Aphex Twin like raspy affected, muffled acid beat, and drum’n’bass flitting drums on the angelic ‘Opera’ to give it some edge.
An extension of the album, in two parts, Lanois in conjunction with The Modern School Of Film’s Robert Milazzo, has asked a number of international filmmakers to create a series of videos: a visual companion and widening of the exploratory spirit for his otherworldly and Earthly soundtracks. Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter), Mary Harron (American Psycho), Kevin Drew (of Canadian super group, Broken Social Scene), Jim McKay (Breaking Bad) and Ondi Timoner (Dig!) have all been invited to create these mini-works of wonder and bafflement. The second part of this multi-media project will involve submissions from “undiscovered” filmmakers/artists; the top three of which will feature alongside the established directors visions, and be used in both promoting the album, at special screenings and in a curated exhibition. You can track the progress here.
Ambitious but subtle in execution, the cerebral and suffused rich atmospheres on Flesh And Machine, will take time to unfurl all their charms and multi-layered finesse. All encompassing peregrination, which partially satisfies those left wanton for something that at least tries to investigate new musical horizons.