Japandroids’ Dave Prowse Takes a Walk With Brian and Roger Eno’s Mixing Colours

Brian and Roger Eno
Mixing Colours
Deutsche Grammophon

I have a friend who has had a little music project for the last few years. Every time he visits a new city, he puts on an album he’s never heard before and listens to it start to finish as he explores this new city. The album and the city have a permanent connection in his brain — the city reminds him of the album, and the album reminds him of that city. It’s impossible for every album to have that strong sense of place, but some albums do. Sometimes, the context that you hear an album in is inextricably linked to that album in your brain.

Brian and Roger Eno’s Mixing Colours is the first new album I’ve listened to start to finish since life in Vancouver got strange due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve been gravitating to slower and more gentle music to soothe my anxiety, so this seemed like a natural choice for something new to listen to. After hearing a few songs in my car and at home, I decided to go out for my daily walk through the neighbourhood and listen to all 18 tracks and 75 minutes of it in one go.

Mixing Colours is the product of 15 years of collaboration. Roger Eno composed pieces on MIDI keyboard and sent the files to his brother Brian. Brian would then manipulate, edit, and add to the files so that each piece was set in its own “sound world.”

You definitely hear the push and pull of collaboration with its competing sounds and ideas complementing each other. Roger’s piano is minimal and beautiful, slow and deliberate. Meanwhile Brian Eno is a master of tone and space, giving each piece a dramatic, cinematic atmosphere. There is A LOT of echo, delay, and reverb on this album. In each song the palette they’re working in sounds unique – in terms of the main keyboard sound itself, as well as all of the sounds surrounding it. All of these choices create a much more varied listen than you’d expect from a minimalist ambient piano album.

The synth-scapes underneath and responding to the main melodies give a lingering sense of unease in songs like “Spring Frost,” “Burnt Umber,” and “Desert Sand.” It suited the atmosphere outside – it was a beautiful day outside and the sweet smell of cherry blossoms was in the air, but everything felt off and there was a feeling of repressed panic underneath it all.

While listening to early highlight “Wintergreen,” I saw a woman standing by herself, showing off a homemade birthday cake (with lit candles) on her balcony while a friend filmed it with his phone from the street below. Did that image make the song seem sad? Or did that song make the image seem sad?

By the time “Obsidian” came on, with its haunting, pervasive sense of dread, I was starting to think this walk was a really bad idea, but luckily the album takes a sweeter and more tender turn from there. The next two tracks, “Blonde” and “Dark Sienna,”  are the high points for me. Roger’s main keyboard melodies in both songs echo my favourite pieces by people like Thomas Newman and Erik Satie, while Brian’s production and extra flourishes make them sound like they’re being played on the moon.

The album continues to bounce around from there, constantly mutating and playing with tone, reverb, and delay. It’s always minimal, but each choice is always very deliberate, and the swirls of atmospheric synths are tastefully placed to enhance (or sometimes clash) with the mood of the piano. Even at 75 minutes, songs never seem to overstay their welcome, and the album is varied enough to keep the listener engaged throughout.

While listening to  “Cerulean Blue,” another highlight from the album, I came to realize how a sense of loneliness runs through a lot of this album. With all of its reverb and delay, the notes just seem to hang in the air forever, all alone. Would I find this such a lonely listen if I wasn’t walking alone in a deserted city, where people aren’t allowed to come within six feet of one another?  Maybe not, but I’m not sure that matters.

Given the current state of affairs, I’ll be coming back to the songs on this album that help me escape feelings of anxiety and isolation, rather than the songs that enhance those feelings. I would encourage everyone else to do the same.

Dave Prowse has made a fittingly titled Spotify playlist called Chill Tunes for an Anxious Age that you can check out here

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