35 Albums in 35 Years: 1981

In an ongoing attempt to bleed my opinions all over your computer screen, I’m selecting one album from every year that I’ve been alive that has some sort of significance to me…and then writing about it.  Welcome back to 35 Albums in 35 Years.


enobyrne1981: Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

Experimental and “difficult” artists and their music have been apart of my repertoire for a number of years now, probably going back to some of the random albums I’d buy in used racks and dollar bins when I was in high school, and then really cementing itself during my short stint as a deejay at a college radio station.  I can’t remember what really grabbed a hold of me first (probably some sort of industrial noise outfit), but I do remember the first time I ever listened to My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the 1981 album from the always formidable Brian Eno and David Byrne.

At the end of my college career, Talking Heads were enjoying a bit of a renaissance period in my listening habits, a kind of late 70’s art rock revival that was going on in my bedroom.  Pairing that with my love of Eno, whom I’d gotten into in high school after hearing “Deep Blue Day” on the Trainspotting soundtrack, it was only inevitable that I would eventually give the two’s collaborative effort a shot.  And I was excited to hear it.  I had no idea what to expect.

Samples of chanting, Muslims reading scripture, radio callers, preacher men, and the audio from an exorcism mixed and set to foreign beats, rhythms, melodies, and electronic effects.  A journey into the darkness using new and recycled sounds.  A hazy dream state brought on by a vision quest with natives of some exotic land.  The future of the world as recalled by the past.  The hum of the ether.

I didn’t get it.

So, I set the album aside and went about my business.  But I came back to it.  I had to.

It’s not so much that I was unimpressed, but that it was just a wrong time/wrong place kind of situation.  It didn’t click.  The album is a subtle creature, and not one that commands your attention outright.  It does not holler or insist on itself.  It just kind of is.  This makes multiple listens not so much encouraged, but a necessity.

So, days would pass.  Months.  Years.  And every now and then I’d take another listen to this strange little album and be confused for just a while longer, the record clinging to some small piece of my brain, tormenting like some unanswerable riddle, a code I couldn’t crack.  But soon enough, it becomes the groundwork.  Every listen uncovers more.  Every listen reveals something new.  I started to hear its influence on artists like Bjork or Moby, as well as a slew of other musicians tinkering with foreign, often otherworldly sounds and rhythms.  Its touch and feel is all over the ambient/drone genre, every artist, musician, and player practically bowing to their forebear.  These aesthetics of ambient fuzz, world beats, funky pulses, and manipulated tape vocals have become so prevalent in experimental music now, that you can lose sight of just how groundbreaking Eno and Byrne’s album was when it was released over thirty years ago.  It was the proverbial game changer.  It remains a challenging listen as all of the best avant garde records are wont to do.

And to be honest, I still don’t get it.

But that’s okay.  I’ll keep coming back to it.

- Favorite song: “Qu’ran”

- Runner up: “The Carrier”

Some other albums I almost wrote about instead: Gang of Four – Solid Gold; The Birthday Party – Prayers on Fire; The Human League – Dare.


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

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