Composed over the course of 15 years, Brian Eno described his collaborative effort with his brother Roger as a conversation, with each instrument acting as “one island in the limitless ocean of all the possible sounds that you could make.” Unfortunately, those islands are often miles apart, separated by time and distance.
Each track on Mixing Colours is haunting and minimal and, at times, quite vibrant. After all, the album represents an obsessive need to illustrate with tonal color, each song doing so through names of gemstones, plants and weather phenomena that have become synonymous with the colors they represent.
The thing is, though, it’s all rather sleepy. Not that Brian’s work hasn’t verged on the sleepy before—Music for Films is as ready for quiet studying as any lo-fi hip-hop beats playlist. But when nearly every track on an-hour-and-15 minute record hinges on dour midi piano tones, it begins to verge on the forgettable. “Spring Frost” starts the album off with bright keyboard courtesy of Roger Eno, a noted pianist in his own right. It sounds hopeful and sprightly, like the melting of winter as spring hangs right around the corner. Somewhere, that thoroughfare is lost, and the “conversation” between the two amounts to little more than small talk.
The album does occasionally shine. “Celeste,” one of the album’s singles, meanders with dismal piano, gradually introducing airy synth that seems suited to soundtrack a tragic haunted house. The song is repetitive and relatively simple, but it offers a genuine musical thought that provokes an idea of color and space: It’s a successful exploration in a sea of vagaries.
“Wintergreen” has a childlike quality, somehow the most believable “conversation” between the brothers—it feels nostalgic and a bit bittersweet, each phrase lingering just slightly overlong, with each progression letting us fill in space ourselves. Harmonies are slowly introduced, and the song, now with a low thrum, matures over time. It lives up to its name.
It feels reductive to ask for more of a melodic structure, but when more concrete melodies do appear, it’s really where the album shines. Tracks like “Obsidian” feel more active, with dramatic organ sequencing and gothic detail, while “Dark Sienna” has a warmth and depth in an otherwise chilly album.
You won’t hate Mixing Colours. This is music that is nearly impossible to dislike and is a fair recommendation for almost anyone seeking tranquility or quiet music for contemplation (I often turned it on for journaling and, after 15 or so minutes of forgetting music was playing, would be swept away by the fragile beauty of “Snow”—then lulled back to sleep in the drowned “Aquamarine”). Still, we should expect more from the Eno brothers, who are both iconic musicians in their own right and have left their impression on both the mainstream and experimental worlds forever.