Someday World / High Life
Brian Eno / Karl Hyde
Four stars / Four stars
Brian Eno’s deep influence on modern music cannot be denied, but for a long time fans feared that his best work was behind him. However, these two albums, collaborations with Karl Hyde of Underworld, are triumphant extensions of his canon.
Eno has called the music in Someday World as "Reickuti" – an amalgamation of the names of the minimalist composer Steve Reich and the late Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti (indeed, the second album's title refers to the West African musical genre highlife). While Someday World does draw on characteristic elements of both kinds of music, that album is really more a collection of the kind of sublime, arty pop that Eno made his own on his first four solo albums, albeit not as coherent as those releases.
Indeed, Witness references St Elmo's Fire from Another Green World; and the album closer To Us All wouldn't sound out of place on his classic 1977 solo release Before and After Science. Eno aficionados will know that praise doesn't really come much higher.
The funk influence is stronger on High Life, which explores the common ground where syncopated sound and the repetition at the heart of minimalism meet. It's not always immediately engaging, it has to be said. The second track, DBF, for instance, is a rather chilly and cerebral genre workout: Hyde's guitar is sampled and fragmented and looped, building up into layers of aggressive sound that are interesting without ever really being enjoyable. But the next track, Time to Waste It, takes a loping Meters-style cadence and swaddles it with fantastical, unearthly sounds: from Africa to Crescent City via Alpha Centauri.
Lilac, at the album's heart, distils the highlife guitar sound and overlays it with subterranean synthesised chirps and bleeps that recall Eno's contributions to Roxy Music.
If this all sounds rather arid or merely clever, be assured that the albums are full of affecting, expressive singing. Even the most dedicated Enoist would acknowledge that he doesn’t have the greatest vocal range (although working within constraints to transcend them has long been an Eno hallmark) but here, his and Hyde’s vocals, multi-tracked and sometimes heavily processed, create spectral harmonies that are beautifully melancholic or joyous. I’m left yearning for more collaborations from the pair.