Electronic Gospel 

David Byrne with and without Brian Eno

David Byrne with and without Brian Eno

It's become critically posh to tout Brian Eno and David Byrne's 1981 album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts as a groundbreaking template for the decades worth of electronic music that followed. While that record was hardly the first of its kind—one wonders why Philip Glass, or even the work of Can, nearly a decade before, are suddenly forgotten when the hallowed Eno-Byrne duo rears its head—it was, at the very least, forward-looking.

You can't hear Moby's barbershop-gospel techno on Play, sample sages like DJ Shadow and the Avalanches, or even Public Enemy and not detect Eno lurking behind their loops. More than that, though, the album's found-sound approach and digital textures still sound sophisticated beyond their years. A safe distance from musique concète but within earshot of their work together for Talking Heads' Remain in Light a year prior, Bush of Ghosts has preserved well these 27 years.

With their latest partnership, Everything that Happens Will Happen Today, it's clear that Byrne and Eno have attempted an altogether different kind of collaboration—one that's neither trying to prognosticate the splintered future of electronic music, or even expand its boundaries. Rather, it replenishes and somewhat commemorates one of avant-pop history's most fertile relationships with relatively standard, soulful compositions. That is not to say that Everything is entirely conventional or serves as an all-star cameo hour for two bygone artists. Rather, it taps into both performers' flesh-and-blood traits, their most heartfelt musical expressions. For Eno, that means taking the unadorned melodies—rather than his signature ambience or experimental world beat music—he's contributed as producer to world-class acts like U2 or Coldplay and channeling them into original works. For Byrne, it simply means relinquishing control over the material and lending his voice to coax them into hummable pop songs.

Initially a collection of sound sketches Eno had been working and reworking for years, the album finally began to coalesce only when he suggested Byrne lay down some lyrics. The pairing proved to be the perfect counterpoint for the songs, but still the writing process remained detached, as the two exchanged emails over several months, bouncing ideas off one another. Through that distance, the two gradually blended an acutely hopeful album that, nevertheless, feels very connected.

Even the album's dominant theme of human conflict in a digital world—an all-too-familiar thread for Eno and electronic music as a whole—emerges with an optimistic tone the two have coined "electronic gospel." As is suggested by the album cover, which features a Sims-esque rendering of a suburban English home, the songs resonate with earthy tones and comfortable structures, but are obviously fabricated to stage that conflict.

Opener "Home" strolls in with a crisp acoustic strum alongside delicate cymbal taps and, subdued beneath the melody, clustered percussive bleats. That's topped with Byrne's warbly tenor, which deftly maneuvers from a full-throated yowl to a soft-spoken croon about "Connecting to every living soul / Compassion for things I'll never know." Much of the album follows suit in both mood and quality, diverting only momentarily for some jittery piano and Byrne's estranged, crisply spoken lyrics on "I Feel My Stuff," or the liquid echo of "Poor Boy."

Those who trek out to the Ryman can come expecting a hefty dose of the duo's entire catalog—with possibly a choice few Talking Heads standouts—but may be disappointed by Eno's absence from the stage. It could be counted as Eno holding onto his mystique as the behind-the-scenes mastermind, while Byrne plays on his strength as the spotlight icon. But it's also a blunt reminder of how the two made Everything in the first place—geographically separated, but unquestionably joined at the hip.

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