BRIAN ENO
Another Day on Earth
(Ryko/Hannibal)
***

Depending on who you ask, Brian Eno is either the hit record producer for U2 and Talking Heads, the avant-gardist composer of landmark ambient works as Music For Airports, or the crackpot pop guy who, upon leaving Roxy Music just as they were poised to be huge, made four of the weirdest, coolest, and most indispensable solo rock records of the glam-rock era. This last conception has always carried the most weight with me, because those four records--Here Come the Warm Jets, Before and After Science, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), and Another Green World--represent an entire cosmology of songwriting and sound building, followed immediately by a sharp left turn into musical territory that all but abandoned all the great progress that had led up to it. Regardless of the merits of his ambient adventures or the global hit records he's been producing all along, it's easy to feel like Eno--the real Eno, the feather boa-adorned bedroom pop star--has been in total seclusion for 30 years. His new album, Another Day on Earth, is sort of a cold splash of water in that regard. It's a solo record, with songs that he wrote and that he sings and plays most of the instruments on, and while the abstract lyrics and vocal tone haven't really changed (at the very least, it's great to hear him singing again), there's no mistaking the Brian Eno of 2005 for his mid-'70s counterpart. The textures here are soothing (as opposed to exciting), the songs languid (as opposed to nervous), and the sounds, while obviously painstakingly constructed, hint at a combination of digital plug-ins (as opposed to anything else). It's obviously totally unfair to expect an artist to cling to a style or an identity or even a set of tools, especially through the long passage of time. But then again, when you give people 30 years to wonder when you're going to follow up your best work, you can hardly blame them for wondering what happened. SEAN NELSON

CARDINAL
Cardinal
(Wishing Tree/Empyrean)
***

To some, Cardinal's 1994 debut album is one of the gems of orch-pop (a style that occasionally threatens to blow up, but never really has). The lone evidence of Australian guitarist/vocalist Richard Davies and American composer/vocalist Eric Matthews volatile, short-lived collaboration, Cardinal (remastered and reissued with 11 bonus cuts) is a strong addition to the orch-pop canon, but calling it "classic" would be overstatement. The duo strives for a hushed, Nick Drake-like majesty and Zombies-style minor-key symphonies, but only sporadically attains it. The bulk of Cardinal consists of butterfly-wing-delicate songs redolent of the Left Banke and late-'60s Bowie's baroque-pop eloquence. It's obviously pretty yet somewhat blanched in the personality department. DAVE SEGAL

**** Triskaidekaphobia
*** Claustrophobia
** Acrophobia
* Ailurophobia