Brian Eno – Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Author: Colin | Published: 4/12/10

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Artist Brian Eno
Title Small Craft On A Milk Sea
Label Warp Records
Year 2010
Design “ography (typ lith phot ge)”: Nick Robertson; design: Wordsalad
Music Small group improvisation/ambient
Desktop Download image
Notes If one of Brian Eno’s aims for his new album was to reawaken interest in his music and expand his audience, his decision to release Small Craft On A Milk Sea on Warp was a brilliant decision. The label, now in its twenty-first year, has been home to a strikingly wide range of forward-thinking musicians, many of whom have been deeply influenced by Eno’s work. The association makes intuitive sense. Factor in the seven live sessions hosted by different publications around the globe, the humorous Dick Flash interview and the sharing of tracks prior to release and both artist and label have managed to make quite an impression. All this notwithstanding, Small Craft On A Milk Sea is presented as an extravagant piece of design, a challenging indulgence.

The 48 minute album is presented in a diverse range of formats: an expensive and already sold-out Collector’s Edition complete with “A real copper plate, etched with the title and unique edition number embedded in the spine of the slipcase”, the Limited Edition Box Set covered here, standard CD digipak and multiple digital download formats.

The box houses the album on two 12″ records and two CDs, one containing the album, the other the bonus tracks. The outside is an attractive blend of sepia and beige tones. The cover photograph, underscored by a gold, foil-blocked strip, renders the sea as something that might equally be a stormy desert caught at dusk. Nary a single word is outwardly visible on the cover, reverse or spines. All the text is presented on one 12″ square sheet of card, encased within the folder that also contains the two CDs. Each of the three folders consists of rigid card leaves, on the front of which are abstract images that may or may not be photographic in origin. On each of their backs is a treated photograph: a lighthouse haunted by the Northern Lights, another ocean scene possibly marked by the wake of a boat and a seascape lit through stormy clouds.

The images convey a sense of the sea’s uncanniness while the shipping forecast, traced in gloss between the album credits, suggests a fragile skein of hopeful/fearful predictions that might succumb at any moment to nature’s whim. Can parallels be drawn between Eno’s working methods and the patterns spelt out on the record labels, their sleeves and the blurred images on the fronts of the folders? I can’t tell. I do know, however, that the composite impression gradually assembled by images, scale and colours serve to widen and deepen my experience of the music itself.

See also:

Autechre – Quaristice
Autechre – LP5

Buy from the Brian Eno online shop

Listen Brian Eno with Jon Hopkins & Leo Abrahams – Emerald and Stone:

Brian Eno with Jon Hopkins & Leo Abrahams – Small Craft on a Milk Sea:

Brian Eno with Jon Hopkins & Leo Abrahams – 2 Forms of Anger:


  1. I figured this would appear on here before long. It seems to me to be the ultimate triumph of style over substance: looks pretty nice, yet it’s one of the dullest, most derivative releases I’ve heard in years. I don’t share the anger some reviewers clearly feel (bad music, in my view, is usually best ignored, not ranted about), but such an elaborate presentation for such mediocre music has “pretentious” written all over it.

    Comment by Simon — December 4, 2010 @ 9:36 am
  2. Hello Simon, I’ve not read a single review of Small Craft and decided not to take part in Disquiet’s discussion about the album. Increasingly nowadays I seek out reviews only after I’ve given myself sufficient time to make my own sense of a record, film or book. Perhaps a little hypocritical I know, given my continuing though increasingly occasional writing of such pieces. Then again, now that we have such instant access to music perhaps this makes sense.

    When the album was first announced, I did fear that Warp had misjudged the launch by over-emphasising the packaging without reference to the music as noted in my Hard Format news item noting the announcement. I think that it would have been better to have included a track via SoundCloud at the same time. However, I don’t share your poor opinion of the music. I’m long acquainted with pretty much all of Eno’s ouevre. What I hear is an exploration of the possibilities of small group improvisation informed by Eno’s ambient sensibilities.

    I find compositions such as Late Anthropocene to be delicate, beautifully judged performances and I’ve also been really enjoying the more abrasive tracks. I wish they would stretch out and explore these at greater length. Perhaps the only track that I hear as derivative of anything outside of Eno’s own work are the key changes on Surfacing that are reminiscent of Boards of Canada. I really enjoy the rubbing up against and occasional merging of two of Eno’s key narratives: the ambient minimising of sonic activity and the small group creation of abstract narrative a la Another Green World and more recently Nerve Net. Yet his engagement solely with Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams (rather than diverse, fragmenting groupings) creates something significantly different to Music For Films, a long-time desert island choice of mine. Just as Kraftwerk’s Tour de France Soundtracks deepens, extends and reconfigures their narrative without radically reinventing the music, I don’t hear Small Craft as revolutionary, but at this stage I don’t expect that.

    Hard Format’s raison d’etre isn’t to review music, but I’m writing at such length here because I’m not interested in sharing work that is merely pleasing to the eye or deliberately released in limited editions. If I, like you, felt that Small Craft was worthless I wouldn’t feature it. The danger of over-egging the pudding in this period of deluxe editions is of course very real. Some of our favourite albums display little more than an image and some basic text and that suffices, even allows us to create our own stories in the spaces. I’m no fan of pure design, seemingly unrelated to the music itself, but Small Craft’s packaging suggests narratives and hints at moods that reflect and, as I said before, expand the experience of the music. One could interpret the colourful abstracts as accompaniment to the ambient passages and the manipulated photographic images as visual responses to the rhythmic work, or vice-versa.

    I would like to hear Eno continue to develop and explore the possibilities heard on Small Craft. I’d like to hear him go deeper rather than move on to a different project and I’d like to see more of this visual/graphic exploration.

    Comment by Colin — December 4, 2010 @ 11:06 am
  3. An interesting reply, Colin. Let me just say – if it’s needed – that in no way was I suggesting you shouldn’t have included this release on here; that’s your call & I wouldn’t be so arrogant to think otherwise. You’re absolutely right about Warp’s initial focus on packaging; I’m always fiercely suspicious of promotions of that ilk. &, like you, I staunchly avoid all reviews of releases until I’ve engaged with the material myself. I figured I’d be in the minority hating this release, so I was genuinely surprised to find my reaction echoed by so many. Horses for courses.

    I was interested by your comment about not including releases that are “merely pleasing to the eye”; I must admit I’ve never got the impression Hard Format was about anything other than design, æsthetics & style. In that case, while you rightly say HF doesn’t review music, one should assume you (tacitly) approve of all the albums you feature? Would that be right?

    Comment by Simon — December 5, 2010 @ 1:31 am
  4. I’d be interested to know whether the music was composed prior to Eno knowing it was coming out on Warp. For me, on first listen, it sounds like he made a concession. It’s mostly a beautiful album somewhat spoilt by those dated skitty, Aphex/Squarepusher beats.
    Likewise, the first 10 panels above, work beautifully. The rest is garish.

    Comment by Hesketh Pearson — December 6, 2010 @ 10:47 am
  5. Hello Simon, that’s a very good question.

    Hard Format started out and remains, more than three and a half years later, a personal perspective, although I’m gradually beginning to think of the site at least in part as a reference of some sort). For the first couple of years all the posts related to music that Justin and I enjoyed. More recently I’ve begun to explore designs that I wouldn’t otherwise have listened to. Last week I found myself listening more than once to the Pop Will Eat Itself 12″ I featured and enjoying it for example.

    I’m interested by your use of the word ‘approve’. I’m not sure what music I disapprove of, apart from things that are racist/sexist/homophobic/etc. To feature a design I have to feel it makes sense in relation to the music. The vast majority of the posts relate to music that I enjoy, a smaller number I find at best interesting, but wouldn’t necessarily listen repeatedly to. I hope that makes some kind of sense.

    Comment by Colin — December 6, 2010 @ 1:56 pm
  6. Hello Hesketh,

    The garishness you refer to is mostly likely the fault of my photography. The red was a tough colour to reproduce online and though I tried quite a bit I don’t think I did it justice. I’m not sure of the significance of the Star Trek-like patterns surrounding the vinyl, but it and the text of the shipping forecast reproduced here in close-up are much more subtle than they appear as they’re reproduced in gloss ink, not colour. Well worth looking at in real-life before making a final judgement.

    Comment by Colin — December 6, 2010 @ 2:00 pm
  7. mmm. The packaging is lovely and I’m glad I didn’t see it before listening to the album because I think it would have raised my expectations somewhat. As it was my expectations were pretty low and the album sort of just about fulfilled them. It’s one of those records that offers less the more you listen to it IMHO, but you could say the same about pretty much anything Eno’s done since the mid 80s…

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