Lulls Cats: Brian Eno’s Soothing New Album Even Calmed Down My Hyperactive Tabby

Pop, jazz, and classical.
Nov. 16 2012 8:08 AM

Music To Sleep to

The ambient beauty of Brian Eno.

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Lux is spare in its textures, restrained in its arrangement. Piano notes hang in the air with a long sustain, occasionally accentuated by subtle strings. (The sparse, cryptic liner notes also make reference to a Moog guitar.) Take Lux out of the grandiose backdrop of an Italian palace and into humdrum everyday reality, and it has a dewy emotionalism—evocative of another time and place without drawing much attention to itself. It is good music to play in the background while working on something else—“music for thinking,” as Eno would put it, or music that is “as ignorable as it is interesting,” as he described Music for Airports in 1978.

I tested Lux in a variety of situations; it sounded almost as good piped through tinny laptop speakers as it did on deluxe 180-gram vinyl on a “proper setup.” It worked well as nighttime music and as gentle music for the raw, early light of morning. I tried Lux on a normally hyperactive cat that stood in quiet attention before reclining luxuriously in relaxation on a mat in the kitchen. I played Lux simultaneously with Neroli, an ambient album Eno released in 1993, and the two complemented each other. Neroli fills in Lux’s airy spaciousness, adding to it without overpowering it.

Neroli, which Eno billed as “Music for Thinking: Part IV,” is Lux’s closest sonic relative. Neroli also gained some traction as soothing music for pregnant women in wards, if some accounts are to be believed. But Neroli is darker than Lux; it contains more tension. Lux builds into quietly ecstatic peaks before slowly dissolving; any abrasiveness fades almost as quickly as it appears.

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Lux was originally designed to be less bright than it turned out to be. “What I had composed—in my studio in London, wrapped up in England’s grey climate—was introspective and somewhat dark,” Eno writes in the materials supplied with the installation. “There was not doubt in my mind that it was an ‘interior’ track. What is most striking about the Great Gallery—and you realize as much only when you step into it—is that it is soaked in light and space: nothing further from an ‘interior’ feeling.” Eno then worked on the piece in the gallery itself, altering it to fit the space.

Lux also shares similarities with the smeared, hazy transcendence of Thursday Afternoon, a 1985 Eno ambient album that was originally composed as the soundtrack for a transfixing series of “video paintings” in 1984. Another parallel is the music of Eno’s erstwhile collaborator and friend Harold Budd, whose delicate, spare piano figures, with ample helpings of the sustain pedal, seem at once deliciously simple and deeply emotional—and almost cosmically transporting.

Lux is Eno’s first solo album in several years and his most entrancing recent work. While releasing an album of ambient music in 2012 is considerably less groundbreaking than it was in the 1970s, Lux is still unmistakably, quintessentially Eno. And sometimes being beautiful is reason enough.

Geeta Dayal is the author of Another Green World, a recent book on Brian Eno. Follow her on Twitter.