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Pitchfork MAY 5, 2014 - by Nick Neyland
BRIAN ENO/KARL HYDE: SOMEDAY WORLD
Brian Eno is rarely idle. In 1996 he published a book titled A Year (With Swollen Appendices), which detailed his extraordinary life over a twelve-month span. Even his quiet days, it seems, have some sense of purpose to them. For the book's September 25 entry, he doesn't do much at all, aside from noting two phone calls that came through: one from David Bowie, the other from Paul McCartney. Although much has surely changed since then, his workrate hasn't dipped, and the albums keep coming. His latest, Someday World, is a collaboration with Underworld's Karl Hyde, and, like much of Eno's recent output, it's released by Warp. Eno hasn't exactly given this album the hard sell, instead presenting it as a collection of half-thoughts he tried to salvage after browsing through a stray hard drive one afternoon. "I had a big collection of 'beginnings' sitting around waiting for something to galvanise them into life, to make them more than just 'experiments,'" he said in advance of the album's release.
So Someday World may not be built on the most exciting premise, but even Eno's malformed thoughts are usually worth a look, or a listen, or a read, depending on which medium he's currently working in. Here, he brings in a group of collaborators alongside Hyde, including familiar accomplices (Roxy Music's Andy Mackay, Coldplay's Will Champion), a family member (his daughter, Darla Eno), and a co-producer in his early twenties (Fred Gibson). It sounds expensive, in the way that Eno's production for Coldplay or U2 often does, although with less obvious ambition beyond being an outlet for a group of people to work in ways they perhaps haven't before. There's form and structure, although whether it was always there or devised after the fact is difficult to discern. As Someday World progresses, it gradually falls into that bracket of projects that were probably much more fun to record than they are to listen to.
Eno talked about how we are "deep in the grid period of making music" in reference to computer-based composition in 2010, and that's the place this album is rigidly stuck in. There's no looseness here, very little space to move around in. The mode is largely set to "pop" throughout, but only in the sense that Eno and Hyde are reaching for catchy, polished rhythms. Strangely, for someone so reticent to expand on his past, it's a resolutely backward looking work by Eno's standards. Everything feels a little old, including the jungle-lite drums (Daddy's Car), nods to '90s electronica (When I Built This World), and the creeping fear of Blur's 13 (Mother Of A Dog).
It doesn't help that Hyde sounds particularly uninspired, only finding function on the obvious standout tracks (Daddy's Car, Who Rings The Bell). The deliberate strain in his voice grates by the time track nine comes around, sounding like years of coasting through unremarkable Underworld albums like Barking has taken its toll. It may have been difficult for Hyde to find a way in here - the precision-tooled arrangements don't often open up much room for him, leaving him stranded somewhere above the music but never fully immersed in it. He's more observer than participant, letting a watching-the-world-go-by glassiness settle in as his vocals take a distinct back seat to the studio trickery.
The record runs out of steam around Witness, where a deadpan Miss Kittin-style female vocal is threaded over the top. (Thankfully, it exits just as the ghosts of electroclash's past are whipping at Eno and Hyde's ankles.) Someday World is well arranged, meticulously produced, even catchy at times. But there's an overriding sense of aimlessness, of people just dropping by the studio and breezing into the songs before wafting off to a more important appointment. For an Eno work, it's disappointingly lacking in direction.