In many ways, nothing has changed. Leading up to the release of Reflection, Brian Eno employed the analogy of cowboys and farmers: musical adventurers who constantly seek out new ground, and settlers, comfortable to revel in – and perfect – a certain idea. Eno himself, unsurprisingly, manages to rest as a paradox between the two realms. Throughout his career, the man has consistently chased experimentation, to list his triumphs is needless: you know the name. Simultaneously, he has never quite left the bedrock of ambient. Whether he invented what the term has come to mean, or perfected it, matters not. The sound would not exist as we know it without his craftsmanship.
Yet, after reaching the zenith with 1982's On Land, there wasn't much ground left to cover. Ironically, over time, his audience became the metaphorical cowboys. Eno's presentation has been a rock: untarnished, and essentially perfect. An audience spoiled by a constant stream of "the new" gradually began to balk when he rested on his well-earned laurels. As a registered devotee, it has been amusing to watch: harsh criticisms coming down on the likes of 1993's Neroli, even though his sound remained perfectly intact. Not much has changed from then to 2012's LUX and now Reflection - only the audience's reaction.
Perhaps we have become the farmers, and as time has passed (and many musical heroes lost, not least of which Eno's close collaborator David Bowie) appreciation for the expected may have grown. So arrives Reflection, about a year after the great passing. To over-illustrate all this isn't to build up a false defense of its value, rather, to illuminate a simple fact: Eno has, as always, been just ahead of us, waiting.
The music to be found here is both warm – encouraging thought and inner dialogue (as something bearing its title inevitably would) as well as fleeting, subtly changing before complacency can form. Like much of Eno's best work, it gently drifts by, content to be ignored, equally capable of challenging. It's not unfair to compare his work in these somber moments to waves: repeating in cycles, changing quickly and yet perhaps without notice. New sounds flick by in the circling drift, going unnoticed on a relaxed listen, omnipresent on the next, offering new rewards with each pass.
Such is the undying value of the ambient work of a master. Unkempt, or constantly tended to, the moments reward the listener. Imagining the patience required to perfect an LP that can essentially serve as an unbroken loop – yet offer intrigue along each step of the way – one gains more of an appreaciation of the effort that went into the delving of the human pathos that is Reflection. Yet, despite all this, its an album free of ego: the mirror isn't directed towards its creator, but clearly rather towards his hope that we will catch some glimpse of ourselves in its murky, softly swirling depths. If there was any proper gift on the first day of this year - filled with more worrisome questions than it is with hope - it was this. Come, find solace.