It’s appropriate that the first single from Drums Between The Bells, Brian Eno’s second album for progressive electronic label Warp, is called “Glitch.” On that track, Eno has a man with a thick, monotone Polish accent recite a poem by London multimedia artist Rick Holland, over a track that toggles between staccato trip-hop and a dot-matrix machine printing a Flying V. One of 2011’s most visceral jams is totally 1997: Holland’s writing is choppy techno-dystopia of OK Computer vintage, and Eno’s track recalls Warp’s own Aphex Twin.
Eno and Holland have been collaborating for the better part of the last decade, and on Bells, Eno sets Holland’s poems—voiced in alternately soothing and unnerving monotones—atop a diverse group of soundscapes. Like Eno, Holland is taken with the idea of calmness amid the fast pace of modern life and the patterns that arise out of unexpected places. The opener, “Bless This Space,” could have come from Eno’s own pen, and on “The Airman,” Holland imagines elevated views of Earth as “one giant map of free states / or a giant ball of electric,” as Eno adds a rumbling drone and unnerving synths to cut through the “Imagine” vibe.
Holland’s muse guides the album, and his ultra-serious counterculturalisms can be a drag after a while. “Pour It Out” sounds like a New Age instruction manual, on which Holland actually makes narrator Laura Spagnuolo say the word “imaginate” with a straight face. And the lengthy centerpiece “The Real” features the gobbledygook “seeing the real in things / really seeing the real.” Sometimes it’s best to stick with simple ambience.