I must admit, as someone who values texture in music, how the right tone or recording setting fleshes out and contextualizes the ideas in the music (the notes, the lyrics, the keys and tonal modalities, and so on). I have never been one for ambient music, which approaches, in as pure a manner as I surmise, texture qua texture. This isn’t to say that I hate ambient music, or practitioners of ambient music, but it’s a rare occasion these days when I find myself compelled to put on an ambient album.
Why does one play ambient music? Is it a matter of evocating mood? In that department, my tastes have always skewed toward classical (especially piano) or jazz (especially piano) records. Is it a matter of having something on to keep you working? In my case, I’d rather put on a favorite rock album.
Don’t get me wrong, I have ambient artists I like—Stars of the Lid come to mind, as do Ryuichi Sakamoto and Susumu Yokota, albeit tangentially—but I never actively seek out ambient music, nor would I consider myself an ambient head. I’ve never been particularly drawn to any of Brian Eno’s ambient works, for instance, in spite of Eno being one of the first (and arguably most famous) practitioners of ambient music, which makes the prospect of reviewing an Eno ambient album, well, daunting.
And perhaps I would find it too daunting, save for the fact that Eno didn’t make this album alone.
Finding Shore is a collaboration between Eno and a pianist named Tom Rogerson, one part of experimental rock band Three Trapped Tigers, who is noted for his improvisatory background. Their pedigrees are important insofar as it relates to the title, in my opinion.
Compared to Eno and his ocean of work these past ~50 years, Rogerson is like a brook, a smaller body of water.
Their collaboration is a meeting of these channels, these experiences.
Finding Shore resembles, in conception if not execution, an estuary: old salt meeting young freshness.
Indeed, Finding Shore works best when both artists’ playing intermingle; this estuarial style is most evident on opener “Idea of Order at Kyson Point,” where Eno’s tintinabulating synths set the scene but Rogerson’s piano, entering midway, completes it.
Other songs evoke scenes that make one forget the supposed milieu of Finding Shore. The estival-sounding “Marsh Chorus,” for instance, with its ersatz rewinding tape flourishes and delicate pinging, sounds sort of like videogame music à la Undertale or Night in the Woods. “The Gabbard,” meanwhile, reminds me of the music often playing in the background of shows like Adventure Time and Steven Universe—scene-setting, sure, but not at the forefront of those experiences, or yours when actively listening to Finding Shore.
Other songs outright break, or, barring that, kink, the established “vibe,” for lack of a better word. Immediately following “Kyson Point,” for instance, is “Motion in Field,” a song that (minus Eno’s synth vamps) sounds like a George Winston composition, with its high trebly crystal piano notes. “Eastern Shack,” meanwhile, almost approaches violence, with its high, sharp chords and synths coursing like canyon wind.
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe this is any evidence of lack of creativity on the parts of Eno and Rogerson, who work pretty well on Findng Shore to keep things interesting. But for someone already ambivalent about ambient music, it’s unlikely to change their mind. But, really, that’s not my judgement to make.
I wish I could sit here and, for the sake of this review, play encyclopedia for a few minutes for you. I wish I could tell you all about musician-with-a-capital-m Brian Eno and the young British pianist Tom Rogerson, the duo behind Finding Shore’s brittle sound. Maybe I would be able to tie this into Eno’s larger body of work, from “inventing” ambient music to the spacious sounds of his work as a producer. Hopefully I could do the same for Rogerson.
Alas, I may have failed you as the reviewer. I can maybe make vague ties to Eno’s ambient work and his pedigree as a producer. In fact, I can confidently point to some of those overlaps: the parts of Finding Shore that are obviously Eno’s share the delicacy of Music for Airports, while the more pronounced of Rogerson’s noodlings, like “The Gabbard” and “Red Slip,” once filtered through Eno, do remind me of the more capacious canyon echoes of The Joshua Tree.
As for Rogerson, I can’t say as much. I’ve taken a cursory glance through Three Trapped Tigers, the London-based avant-rock trio where Rogerson daylights. Rogerson’s in much of the same mode as he is on quieter Three Trapped Tigers’ songs; his form is more organic than structured, though Finding Shore is a far cry from Three Trapped Tigers’ avant-rock scatterbrain. Rogerson is sparse and minimalistic with his chosen melodies; if played acoustically, Rogerson’s playing could probably pass for a Philip Glass cover.
Finding Shore finds Eno playing as the filter for Rogerson, or, maybe more appropriately, Rogerson playing as the marble to Eno’s chisel.
The foundational work is Rogerson’s piano, but through infrared lasers and Moog shenanigans, Finding Shore starts to feel less like the jazz-trained pianist’s solo debut and more like it could be another member of Brian Eno’s ambient series. Rogerson gives Eno the tools to bend and blend into the minimalist tides of Finding Shore, and the end result has a distinct Eno flavor.
But Finding Shore benefits from something Music for Airports might never have needed: a discernable core. Rogerson’s piano is almost always noticeable in the mix; even at its most skewed, in the penultimate “Chain Home,” you can hear the singular plucks of Rogerson’s piano. There’s a trail to follow on Finding Shore that keeps the album out of the background, if only briefly.
There are so many moments where that trail could grow cold, though. For all of its hushed beauty and delicate textures, Finding Shore rarely makes dynamics a mantra. Often, Rogerson’s piano might play unabated until a shimmer of static grows above or a reverb switch is finally abused, or Rogerson might stagnate at a simple pattern. Eno, meanwhile, will mold from Rogerson an electric pulse or soundwave that blends songs into the background.
The end result is an album that can send you adrift without casting the searchlight to guide you back to shore. Finding Shore is a beautiful work from a talented newcomer and brilliant veteran, but it’s also a fair representative of what Brian Eno called music that’s “as ignorable as it is interesting” in his own gatefold. The intricacies of Finding Shore make it a beautiful listen, if they haven’t lost you somewhere in their own halcyon seas.