Brian Eno and Underworld's Karl Hyde had themselves a time in the studio recently, emerging with not one but two albums released in quick succession the last two months.
The first of these, "Someday World" (Warp), consisted of relatively concise tunes blending the type of African-flavored electro-funk Eno hatched with Talking Heads in the late '70s and early '80s, combined with Hyde's relatively serene vocals. The album had its moments of pop pleasure but felt tentative.
The second, "High Life" (Warp), contains less overt melodies and pop structures, but its more open-ended geography suggests that the collaboration finally found its bearings. It centers on Hyde's chattering guitar, or, more precisely, how Eno processes Hyde's chattering guitar. This alien brand of funk is far more open-ended and abstract than the first album, and better for it.
Though Fela's Afrobeat and the classical minimalism of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich have been cited by Hyde and Eno as influences, they're merely touchstones for a collection of longer pieces that bubble and swerve through myriad genres. On "Return," a human voice floats with the current created by the undulating guitar line. "Time to Waste It" pits a distorted, disembodied vocal against a matrix of clipped guitars, eventually swallowed up by a sinister-sounding organ drone. "DBF" and "Moulded Life" flirt with more conventional brands of funk, though the way a drum machine spits out beats on the latter is almost comical — a marvelous contrast to the big, black glob of a bass line that smears itself across the lower end of the track. "Lilac" is the best of the bunch, its hypnotic churn underpinning gospel-influenced vocal harmonies over more than nine steadily building minutes.
The closing "Cells & Bells" doesn't sound like a coda so much as a new planet entirely, an ambient wasteland populated by sad robots — perhaps the promising introduction to a third Hyde-Eno collaboration?
3 stars (out of 4)