Words About Music
Brian Eno & Karl Hyde “High Life”
It’s safe to say that Brian Eno is one of the most influential and important musicians and producers of all time. When he wasn’t producing albums by U2 and Talking Heads or making music in his own band Roxy Music, he worked on an illustrious solo career consisting of several experimental electronic albums that would later pave the way for pretty much every artist on Warp Records. I won’t say that he invented ambient music, but he certainly helped popularize it with albums like “Ambient 1: Music for Airports” and “Another Green World.” He has collaborated on albums with artists like Velvet Underground’s John Cale, King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, and Talking Heads’ David Byrne, and he is back this year with new collaborations with Underworld founding member Karl Hyde. While I can’t speak for the influence or importance of Underworld as I’ve never really listened to them, the duo has been making music for over thirty years and has attracted quite a bit of fame. They even worked with Danny Boyle on the 2012 London Olympics.
Eno and Hyde’s second collaboration of the year, “High Life,” comes a couple short months after their first collaboration “Someday World,” which I didn’t listen to so I won’t talk about it. I may not be able to contextualize, but I can say that “High Life” represents a dip in quality based on all of Eno’s music that I’ve listened to. The duo utilize numerous different sounds and textures and repeat them several times, perhaps in an attempt to recreate pop-music repetition principles on a more experimental basis. This isn’t the first time something like this has been tried. A lot of the sounds on here remind me of Panda Bear’s 2007 masterpiece “Person Pitch,” which included samples, layers, and repetitive vocals. He’d later replicate this formula in a grander scope on his band Animal Collective’s 2009 opus “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” Again, Panda and Co. aren’t the first to do something like this, but in the contemporary world I think it’s safe to say they perfected it.
“High Life” sounds like it really wants to be “Person Pitch.” The lyrics repeat endlessly, instrumentals build on top of themselves (sort of), songs stretch past the 9-minute mark. In the end, though, it sounds emotionless, and not in a good Kraftwerk sort of way. The album lacks spontaneity and instead seems to mirror the success of acts like Can, Flying Lotus, and Aphex Twin. It’s a krautrock-ambient jerk-off session that’s not entirely bad, just boring. It’s like listening to myself zone out. This album could’ve been so much better with improved lyricism or better vocal performances. The instrumentals themselves actually sound quite soothing, but the inclusion of Eno and Hyde’s voices makes the whole thing feel too calculated. Even the breakdown that kicks off “Moulded Life” is a false promise for greatness.
The duo’s collaborations this year have been divisive and polarizing and I can plainly see why. I can certainly see the appeal to what Eno and Hyde are doing. I just don’t personally enjoy it as I feel like what they’re attempting has already been done to perfection by other artists. Brian Eno is definitely capable of much better, even now, so I wouldn’t call this album a career-ruiner. I would call it forgettable and bland, though.
SCORE – 4.8
FAVORITE TRACKS – Return, Moulded Life