Monday, February 22, 2016

I'd Love to Turn You On #148 - Brian Eno/David Byrne – My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

After Talking Heads released their fourth album and masterpiece, Remain in Light, the band went on hiatus while its members explored side projects. Guitarist Jerry Harrison released The Red and the Black, an underrated solo album which built on his work with The Modern Lovers and Talking Heads. Rhythm section and married couple, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, formed Tom Tom Club with Tina’s sisters and members of the Remain in Light touring band. Tom Tom Club’s debut functions like a release valve for the pressures building on Remain in Light and endures as a funky, energetic party album. Lead singer David Byrne and Brian Eno, producer of three Talking Heads albums, set off to create an album that draws upon similar archetypes as Remain in Light, but stands apart from anything these considerable talents have created before or since. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts sounds like Byrne and Eno discovered a way to tune into the radio signal of this entire planet and distill it into 40 minutes of genre-blurring, hypnotically engaging, and beautifully layered music.

Three and a half decades after its release, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts remains a ground-breaking and brilliant tangent from the minds of two of the most idiosyncratic and cerebral artists in popular music. Whereas Tom Tom Club seized upon the incredible pool of talent that had formed around Talking Heads and aimed it in a loose, upbeat, and fun-loving direction, Eno and Byrne set out on a concentrated, enigmatic, and exploratory mission into the unknown. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts contains some of the same DNA of poly-rhythms, experimentalism, and pastiche as Remain in Light, but this album grows into its environment without the frames and guidance of Byrne’s observational characters or recognizable song structures. Although both Eno and Byrne were known at this point for their skills and abilities as lead singers and songwriters, it may come as a surprise to some that this album features neither their voices nor their lyrics. The album’s liner notes credit both Brian Eno and David Byrne with, “guitars, basses, synthesizers, drums, percussions, found objects.” In place of Eno and Byrne’s vocals, nine of the eleven songs on the album contain elements cited in the liner notes as “voices” and include samples of radio hosts and callers, preachers, an exorcist, and singers from Egypt, coastal islands near the state of Georgia, and Lebanon. Among the eleven musicians who worked with Eno and Byrne on this album, eight are percussionists and three play bass. Eno and Byrne combine this robust rhythmic engine with the found, fragmented vocals to create a set of self-contained, evocative snapshots that, when regarded as a whole, reflect back to the listener like a mosaic formed from the pieces of a broken mirror.

Eno and Byrne reunited in 2008 for Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, an album that serves as a high point for both artists’ output in the last twenty years but bears no discernible connection to their first collaborative album. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today features some of Eno’s best recent production work as well as some of Byrne’s most natural vocals and most compelling lyrics since Talking Heads, but feels strangely orthodox and prosaic compared to the radical poetry contained within their first joint musical endeavor. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts merges elements of art rock, experimental music, funk, electronic music, African pop, folk music, field recordings, and minimalism into a highly influential sum, but few of its successors can compare with this fascinating musical exploration.    
John Parsell

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