Editor: Adam Samuels.
Flesh & Machine is Daniel Lanois' seventh or eighth album depending on how one counts them. In many ways, it's a new kind of recording from the musician and producer. It contains no "songs," but rather 11 sonic compositions that have been painstakingly structured from sketch instrumentation (guitars, pedal steel, drums, basses, organs, pianos, an omnichord) and voices (human and otherwise), put through intricate webs of digital processing, editing, and sampling. What started as an ambient album -- the tracks "Space Love" and closer "Forest City" are testaments to that -- spiraled into something else, a record where the recording studio becomes the instrument of choice, though there are precedents in his earlier catalog for almost everything here. The aforementioned cuts recall the work he did with Brian Eno on 1982's Ambient 4: On Land and 1983's Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks. Opener "Rocco" features harmonically layered falsetto voices accompanied by a piano. It's lovely and lilting but all too brief. "Aquatic" commences as an ambient piece, but its fuzzy pedal steel and wordless vocals drift languidly to explore various tones and harmonics. Though it possesses no real center, it does extend ideas Lanois showcased on Steel, the first album in his Omni Series box. The frenetic "Opera" showcases live drums accompanying a sped-up, distorted, junglist loop (itself created from live drums) stacked alto voices, a whompy Jim Wilson bassline, and what sounds like variously stretched, striated organ chords. The drumming on "Sioux Lookout" is in the punchy New Orleans funk style, with massive tom-tom and snare breaks -- one can hear its origins in various songs on For the Beauty of Wynona -- while the guitars are silvery and dreamy. "The End" is an intense, squalling, electric guitar and drum jam with Brian Blade playing without restraint. Lanois employs staggering tsunamis of distortion and feedback in his soloing. The romantic waltz "My First Love" uses the same omnichord synth he used on Apollo. It's tender and perverse in its deliberate schmaltz and would not be out of place in a David Lynch film. This rainbow of sonic experiments sounds great in a pair of headphones. ~ Thom Jurek