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Daniel Lanois makes an album for the uninvolved listener

Notable producer returns to performing, albeit for fans of definitely ambient music

Daniel Lanois most often appears in the role of producer. His signature sonic touch can be found on mid-to-late-era Bob Dylan albums, U2 classics and “Le Noise,” Neil Young’s sparse album consisting only of electric guitar and voice. Lanois is a performer in his own right, and his latest, “Flesh and Machine,” is an interesting effort.

"Flesh and Machine" is truly ambient — an important trait to remember when listening through the album. The songs are extremely laid-back, slowly building to mild climaxes, if any climax at all. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to be aware of the distinction between this sort of ambient sound and bands labelled ambient which are actually more drone or uptempo and electronic.

The album is best appreciated, therefore, either as absolute background music or as a focused listening experience. In between — say, music to tune in and out from — it might seem tiring or boring. As pure background music, it’s quite pleasant.

With closer listening, the textures and soundscapes Lanois creates become more apparent. “Tamboura Jah,” for instance, is built upon minimal, reverb-drenched electric guitar with quiet synth pulses and almost tribal-sounding drums. It is quiet and does not really build to any larger dynamic, so the mournful warble of the guitar cutting in and out becomes the song’s central focus. Again, this works very well for close-listening, but not so well for something like a driving soundtrack.

The best songs on “Flesh and Machine” are those which make use of a guitar part, and not just synths. “Space Love” does a solid job combining echoey, spacious synth tones with soft, repetitive guitar noodling, creating an interesting texture and the bare melodic structure. There’s not much melody to be found on these songs, so when it’s there, it stands out.

The album’s strongest point is its production. Lanois likes his songs to sound like they’re coming from an amplifier in a massive, empty room, usually with the gain turned up to allow for some degree of distortion. Though this overall effect is generally more ethereal on “Flesh and Machine” than on an album like Young’s “Le Noise,” it’s still pleasantly distinct.

The bottom line with “Flesh and Machine” is that on the surface, it can seem bland. To call it boring would not be a stretch. Yet, it is well-crafted and has some beautiful moments, like the contemplative piano of middle-track “Iceland.”

Lanois has very much made an album for fans of his production style and truly minimal ambient music. Best suited for listening during quiet contemplation, “Flesh and Machine” is a strong effort, but with very limited appeal. 


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