Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Brian Eno & David Byrne, "America Is Waiting" (1981)


I liked the idea of this early solo collaboration between Brian Eno and David Byrne: taking random snippets of audio from AM radio broadcasts and matching them with ambient in-studio musical accompaniment heavy on the African influence. The two disparate elements somehow (not always) meld into songs, sometimes even with recognizable verse-chorus-verse movement, and work on each other in interesting ways, obscuring, highlighting, changing—and/or, ultimately, failing to change—the churning forces at play. I think it works best of all on this opener for the album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and then gradually declined across the space of the album; the '06 rerelease, which added seven more tracks, only repeated that experience. But what an undeniable idea, as crystallized in "America Is Waiting," with such ingenuity of repurposing, belittling yet still bearing the chilling raw power of the original broadcasts. The album can claim a historic position for its use of sampling, a notion still in its infancy at that point though already in the arsenal of hip-hop artists in New York, which likely explains how these skilled musical voyeurs picked up on it. "America is waiting for a message of some sort or another," says San Francisco talk jock Ray Taliaferro in a broadcast of April 1980, according to Wikipedia, which statement in hindsight appears prescient—I'm not even sure Taliaferro, let alone Eno and Byrne, knew what they had there, so close to the historical political fault lines themselves. But sure, I'll call it prescience. And maybe it's projection on my part, but I hear great roiling mounds of anxiety in the musical trappings too, with contributions from Bill Laswell, David Van Tieghem, and Tim Wright, which appear to be attempting to encircle this potent gibbering with magic rituals of some sort or another. The result is like few things before or since.

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