Brian Eno / Karl Hyde

High Life

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High Life, the second collaboration between Brian Eno and Underworld's Karl Hyde, began immediately after the completion of Someday World. Its release follows a mere two months later. While some traits of the former are present here -- a heavy reliance on African-sourced rhythms, and hypnotically repetitive keyboard and bassline -- it is a very different companion. While the pair relied on more formal "song forms" on Someday World, High Life is looser. These six tracks place more value on jamming. The centerpiece is Hyde's guitar. It's front and center throughout, with myriad rhythm tracks close behind. A two-chord reinvention of Chuck Berry's signature riff commences album-opener "Return" before becoming subsumed in sonic treatments and Edge-like sounds. Nonetheless, that vamp worms its way into the brain and feet. Hyde's drifting vocal is mixed far underneath his six-string; it's negligible. Skittering percussion loops and a droning keyboard eventually come to prominence balanced by an organ playing more like a calliope, building on and subtracting from the riff. A humming bassline merely echoes the guitar changes and it goes on for nine minutes. Though only four minutes, "DBF" is pure funk, with Hyde's chunky guitar chords hammering right at the percussion and syncopating it. "Time to Waste It" combines both high life and Caribbean rhythms with a slowly unfolding, merciless repetition that becomes momentum. The heavily treated vocals unhurriedly open out in a bigger circle. It's a "song" that feels like pure improvisation. The proto-disco rhythm guitar in "Lilac" -- featuring the album's silliest lyrics -- is juxtaposed with psychedelia and gospel in the vocals. Eno's keyboard treatments pulse; they twist and turn it inside out without forsaking the reverence in or spaciness of the singing, while the guitar keeps the foot race going. "Moulded Life" is careening, chaotic electro Afrofunk -- we could have used much more on this set -- with Adrian Belew-esque guitar parts cutting in a number of directions, as keyboards churn, burp, and crash with dissonance above glitchy rhythm tracks. Closer "Cells and Bells" is an outlier. Given its predecessors, it's almost ambient in comparison; it's a spectral elegy with a monotone vocal that becomes part of the instrumentation. There's just enough actual (musical) form to keep the thread, as it is, to a close. High Life sounds like it contains little "strategy." These jams feel spontaneous. The constant repetition with more or less subtle shades of developing dynamic and texture in all but the last of these tracks creates a nearly endless groove. And perhaps that's the album's point, creating an album of dance music that's fun to listen to; a mirror image of Someday World's more carefully structured avant pop.

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