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Brian Eno and Kevin Shields’ “Only Once Away My Son” Is a Sublime Collaboration

Though their respective professional work dates back decades, “Only Once Away My Son” marks the first collaboration between production pioneers Brian Eno and My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, an egregious case of a missed connection. They’re revered in similar musical bubbles, and although they work in different modes—Eno in vivid, subtler landscapes, and Shields in assaultive cries—the best of their experimentations result in wordless yet precise articulations of human experience.

Through the nine-minute voyage, Shields’ synesthesiac spews arrive in gossamer-coated swells, as Eno’s magisterial presence flirts with MBV’s dreamscape maximalism. Eno has expressed his admiration for Loveless’ “Soon,” and in a sense, “Only Once Away My Son” is a bleak nine-minute response to that closer, jettisoning the melody to embrace its underlying nightmarishness. The track’s densely layered movements are omnidirectional, fully committing to each route into the miasma. Tinny marching percussion starts off the track before it recedes to the background. Strings quake and the guitar—presumably Shields—rises in a way that stops just short of overwhelming.

The strums bend toward poignance, yearning, and mourning with high fidelity in each swell. There’s a astral grandeur, but the song’s thesis ultimately rests in mortality. By the track’s end, the beat returns to the fore only to find the final notes trailing off like howls in the night. It’s a sublime collaboration, an act of kismet.