Flesh and Machine is the record long time enthusiasts of Daniel Lanois always hoped he would make. After three decades of applying his stylistic ambience to other artists – namely, albums that heightened or reignited the careers of U2, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris, The Neville Brothers, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and a host of others – the producer/guitarist/song stylist now turns his sonic invention to his own music on a gorgeously textured instrumental recording.
Lanois is no stranger to solo sessions. He has been cutting them since the late ‘80s, but they have mostly yielded song oriented works rich with a mix of rootsy sparseness, rockish immediacy and atmospheric invitation. The focus of Flesh and Machine seems to be exclusively on sound – specifically, a wash of guitar, voice and contributions from a few longtime pals processed into an often orchestral whole.
In some instances, recognizing the actual source music is impossible. In others, we hear fragments of melody, beat and groove, but they are seldom sustained. It seems Lanois was intent on creating an instrumental moodpiece for the modern age that discouraged any close consideration of the sum of its parts.
The most dominate and most recognizable inspirations are the early ‘80s recordings Lanois helped design with his foremost mentor, Brian Eno.
On Two Bushas , in particularly, the music flows in as if from the cosmos – chilled and spacious at one moment, lush but cautious the next. The comparisons to the Eno years become more intentional during the album closing Forest City, a luscious, sustained celestial hum peppered by what seems like synthesized fairy dust that recalls the music of Japanese keyboardist Isao Tomita. It is a tune beautifully designed to get lost in.
But Flesh and Machine is far more than an Eno-esque tribute. After the ethereal, vocally processed album intro of Rocco (named for Rocco DeLuca, who provided the source singing), the album explodes into the The End (an ironic title for Flesh and Machine’s second track) with a squall line of ruptured guitar speak from Lanois and free form bashing from longstanding drummer/compadre Brian Blade. The album quickly cools after that, but the attack of The End provides a balance that makes the grace and calm that pervades the rest of the album all the more striking.
There are loads of other delights, as well, including the brief cosmic pop reverie of My First Love, the techno chatter of percussion and keyboards or vocals (or possibly both) on Opera and the waves of what sound like heavily processed pedal or lap steel guitar that dance about on Aquatic.
All of this makes Flesh and Machine a sort of 36 minute sonic vacation. For full effect, put your life on hold as you listen, turn off the lights and let Lanois’ fabric of earthy unrest and otherworldly calm envelop you.