Sunday, November 02, 2014

Daniel Lanois - Flesh and Machine

Daniel Lanois - Flesh and Machine (Anti)

Daniel Lanois has been a lot of things in his 35-year career, but he hasn’t been this wonderfully weird in a long, long time. The producer and musician, best known for his work with U2, Bob Dylan and Peter Gabriel, started out making folk and punk records in Hamilton in the mid-’70s; by the early ’80s, he started working with ambient pioneer Brian Eno. The Eno/Lanois records of that time still sound alien and curious; Flesh and Machine marks the first time since then that Lanois has returned to that template. It’s easily his most abstract work in decades: lately he’s been listening to Tim Hecker, not Emmylou Harris.

The title spells it out: the album features Lanois’s guitar and the drums of Brian Blade fed through multiple electronic treatments and digital editing, creating more textures than melodies. Most tracks feature manipulations of his steel guitar until, he says, the “electronic components sound like little animals whispering.” This is not ambient music, however: though it is often beautiful, it’s not background music. The second track, “The End,” is jarring and dissonant; Lanois describes it as  “protest instrumental … sounds of war and suffering. It really sounds like the sky is falling down.” He borrows the guitar setup he used on Neil Young’s Le Noise album for “Aquatic,” where the harsh sound of two overdriven Fender amplifiers is used to deliver a haunting melody, while zero-gravity steel guitars create washes of sound underneath.

Most Lanois solo albums find him doing what we expect him to do: show off his unique guitar style with the help of top-notch musicians around him. Sometimes that means a modern take on roots music, sometimes that finds him in front of a rock band (like his most recent project, Black Dub). Here, however, Lanois sounds like he’s learning new lessons from those 30-year-old Eno recordings, and pushing himself in ways we didn’t expect from him anymore (like the five-minute, one-note drone of “Forest City”). Flesh and Machine is not the sound of a star producer dabbling on the side; it’s the sound of a restless mind eager to challenge his own assumptions—and those of his audience.

Download: “Rocco,” “Space Love,” “Aquatic”

Lanois will be at the TIFF theatre on Wednesday, Nov. 5, in conversation and featuring short films based on Flesh and Machine by Atom Egoyan, Mary Harron and Kevin Drew. He kicks off his tour in Toronto on Sunday, Nov. 9 at the Danforth Music Hall. 

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