I’ll begin by re-treading a bit in order to better inform readers who haven’t yet had the chance to read my review of the first Eno · Hyde disc back in June. Minimalist/art-rock legend Brian Eno is a personal idol of mine and I was absolutely blown away by how much Someday World, his first collaboration with Underworld frontman Karl Hyde, reminded me of his late seventies art-pop records. The writing on that record, by both collaborators, was absolutely brilliant in spots, and I definitely got the feel that these two artists enjoyed working together tremendously. It is fitting, then, that Brian Eno and Karl Hyde opted to continue their collaboration and to record a second album’s worth of material. The fruit of those continued sessions is their second record, High Life.
The first thing I must say is that this record bears little resemblance to the pair’s first outing. Whereas Someday World was very song-based and, as such, quite accessible, High Life is far more unconventional and abstract, and is much harder to get into. Right away, one gets the idea that this is going to be a record for Eno’s more patient fans. The album begins with “Return,” a droning affair that builds slowly over the course of nine minutes and blossoms into something quite stunning after the seven minute mark.
The funky and furious “DBF” follows, providing us with a more experimental view of the art-pop landscapes the two came up with for Someday World. The savagely paced rhythm allows for tons of experimental lead work. I especially love the distorted organ toward the end of the tune. The initially mellow “Time To Waste It” features processed vocals and a heavily effected guitar, played by regular Eno collaborator Leo Abrahams, that howls menacingly over the still otherwise mellow audio landscape. “Lilac” juxtaposes another snappy rhythm with a more soothingly paced guitar rhythm. The vocals sing a poem by Rick Holland, an artist which Eno has collaborated with before on the 2011 record Drums Between the Bells.
One of the more real moments on the record for me is the funky, glitch-menace “Moulded Life.” The track features a heavy electronic rhythm section and carries on almost like something from Crimson’s The Power To Believe (okay, what’s going on? I’m sure I referenced that one in my review for the last one!). When the track’s busiest section calms down around halfway through, the impressively gnarly rhythm section has a wonderful moment to shine before pure, delightful insanity takes over. Boldly experimenting with some of the harshest sounds I’ve heard in a long time, Eno never ceases to impress me. The man can produce some of the most soothing elevator music known to man, and also deliver something truly maniacal like this.
The album ends with its best song, “Cells & Bells,” which truly is a classic Eno song reinvented for a new and darker age. It begins with a dissonant, digitally distorted intro but includes the beautifully terse musical style and vocals of Eno’s gorgeous ballads on Before and After Science. The sonic textures provided by Fred Gibson are absolutely breathtaking and the blending of Eno and Hyde’s vocals is hauntingly effective.
In closing, High Life is a great record for those willing to wait for those key subtle moments that all patient Eno fans know to hold out for. Those who prefered the more conventional oddities presented on Someday World, however, will probably be disappointed. Nothing on this disc is remotely mainstream, a blessing and a curse, depending on who you ask. As a musically-obsessed individual spaced somewhere in between those two opinions, I personally find the album to be a challenging bit of sonic exploration that has perhaps been offered up as a means to polarise the duo’s magnificent abilities.
I do recommend the disc, but only to master-level audio art listeners, and very patient and dedicated fans of Eno and experimental music in general.
RYAN SMITH spends a great deal of his time under troll bridges shaking his fist and hollering obscenities at the mainstream, but occasionally finds himself on the side of a pop act that the underground has disowned. A schizoid fan for the 21st century? Although he has a diverse musical taste that runs the gamut from black metal to country to most forms of jazz, Ryan’s first love will always be progressive music.