The English ambient master and his German apprentice explore virgin
electronic soil.

When it comes to the music of Brian Eno, you're either on the bus or off the bus.

Those who are off the bus tend to be bugged by the facetious obnoxiousness of his early-'70s, post-Roxy Music "rock" albums, or they wonder why in the world one would voluntarily listen to his ambient works--which, by Eno's own admission, are not meant to be actively listened to. They should instead be unobtrusive, like a piece of furniture.

However, for those on the Brian Bus, his latest collaboration--this time with German electronica artist J. Peter Schwalm--will be a delight. The brief opening track, "From This Moment," is more or less purely ambient, but from there, the funky and intriguing "Persis" gets the experience rolling. Textures, beats and mysterious instrumentation pile up in layers, but never to an overwhelming degree; there's always space to appreciate each sound and conjecture as to what combinations of instruments and inspirations led to it.

Eno's friend and colleague Laurie Anderson provides her inimitable, hypnotic spoken vocals to "Like Pictures Part 2," which has the most intelligible words on the entire album. The rest hover just on the edge of making sense, without ever giving too much away, preserving an exciting sense of mystery and leaving the listener to fill in the blanks.

Over the course of his career, Brian Eno has brought out the best in the artists he's produced (including Talking Heads, Devo and U2), and he seems to work best in collaboration (his last really interesting work was 1995's Spinner, a collaboration with former Public Image Ltd. bassist Jah Wobble). Peter Schwalm is young, original and cutting-edge, reminding Eno how to create a head-bobbing groove that just won't quit. At first, it may seem strange that a record made by a guy in his late 50s should come out on a hip electronica label like Astral-werks, home to Air, Fatboy Slim and Photek. One listen to Drawn From Life will show you that not only is it perfect there, but it also breaks new ground, transcending a genre that threatens to stagnate under its own hype. (JJ)


The ex-Grant Lee Buffalo chieftain returns solo.

Grant Lee Buffalo is dead, but Grant-Lee Phillips lives on. Buffalo's three-piece L.A. combo never made the splash some felt they deserved to make; an opening slot on R.E.M.'s last tour was probably the height of their exposure. But they did manage some impressive work in their time, and their second album, Mighty Joe Moon, might just be a masterpiece. Lacking Buffalo bassist Paul Kimble's production gifts, main singer and songwriter Phillips was left in a post-breakup position roughly equivalent to that of Morrissey without Marr.

With this new album, his first "official" solo release (following last year's Net-only Ladies' Love Oracle), Phillips has found his muse in one Carmen Rizzo, who co-produced the album, in addition to mixing and programming. Each track here features a distinctive melody and fresh beats as a bed for Phillips' usual deeply thought lyrics and brave vocal flights. His strength as a writer has always been a sense of history and society, and of how these outward concerns resonate within one man's soul. And on this album, one gets the feeling of a still-young artist rediscovering his strengths, both personally and creatively.

"See America" and "We All Get a Taste" are real, solid songs, the kind Bono just wishes he'd written for the last U2 album. Phillips, with Rizzo's aid, builds other tunes here into elaborate pop symphonies like a latter-day Brian Wilson. With Mobilize, Phillips is on the move toward a bright future, now that the Buffalo's gone. (JR)

Grant-Lee Phillips plays Friday, Sept. 7, at Berbati's Pan, 231 SW Ankeny St., 248-4579. 9 pm. Cover.

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