INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The 405 APRIL 28, 2014 - by Robert Whitfield
BRIAN ENO AND KARL HYDE: SOMEDAY WORLD
A collaborative album between Brian Eno and Karl Hyde is a very intriguing prospect. It would initially appear that they come from wildly different worlds - Hyde is most well known for his work with Underworld, whilst Eno is notable for his ambient music and production, yet arguably both have a heritage in dance music. Now I'm sure many of you can see how I can say that about Hyde, but Eno? The clearest indicator of Eno's dance sensibilities lie in his work with David Byrne. Whether the trio of Talking Heads albums he produced or the My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts collaboration, Eno's use of polyrhythm and influence from African music (as well as Bush Of Ghosts' reliance on vocal samples) made for some of the funkiest, most infectious tracks of the '80s. Even Eno's work with Bowie had influences from performance art and Ambient 3 (by Laraaji) featured three tracks titled Dance.
So it should be no surprise that Someday World features an array of addictive tracks balancing polyrhythmic grooves with a dense, richly textured production. Lead single Daddy's Car, is a perfect example of this, opening with an up-tempo, shuffling beat and stabs of organ, before an almost electro-pop bass synth joins in. When the song finally kicks in there is a flurry of synthesised horns and harmonies under the vocals. Keys and acoustic guitar become the focus about half way through, whilst a funky middle eight draws attention to the interplay between the horns and the keyboards.
Album opener The Satellites is also heavy on the synthesised horns which, depending on your tastes, are either going to come across as incredibly cheesy, or just a little bit of fun. Personally I find them to be a suitable counterpoint to the rest of the song's seriousness, all driving synths, guitars and melancholic vocals. Also they provide enough of a shock early on the record to dispel thoughts of either creator's back catalogue.
That said, with Eno handling the production on Someday World (with assistance from Fred Gibson) and seemingly the originator of the foundations for the individual songs - Eno credits Hyde as the element that helped galvanise the ideas into life - it's impossible to not draw links back to his other work. The album's third track, A Man Wakes Up has all the hallmarks of a Talking Heads track. There's the schizophrenic rhythm, full of sudden bass runs like nervous twitches, and scratchy electronic sounds. Even the lyrics, delivered by Karl Hyde's distinctive voice, recall Byrne's preacher routine from Once In A Lifetime; part spoken-word and full of allegory. "A man wakes up / and when he opens his eyes / he doesn't recognise a thing" sings Hyde on the song's opening line. Like many of the songs on Someday World there is a distinct twisting of the everyday into something more evocative and transcendental.
As the album progresses this theme becomes more apparent. The lyrics of The Satellites seem to hold in them the mundanity of life. "The days blur into one" the duo intone glumly, whilst the title could be a reference to space-age technology, or the more natural satellites that hang in the night sky passing us by day by day. A Man Wakes Up deals with the trappings of modern life as the man struggles to orientate himself correctly. Aside from feeling himself "turned inside out" he's tasting the pavement through the soles of his shoes or transforming himself into a beach to be eroded by the ceaseless passage of time and waves.
Witness utilises a pretty pop melody during its opening two minutes - one that seems a stark contrast to the crushing depression of the lyrics. Witness could be about an ex lover ("you used to be magnificent / light poured out of you" goes one sneering line) or perhaps someone, or something, of a higher consciousness as evidenced by the line which closes the verse. "Did you ever dream the end of the world / watching everything you loved / slip beneath the flood" is the cue for a dramatic shift in the song's narrative, with a pulsing bass synth and buzzing electronics surging over the pianos as a metallic female voice lists natural phenomena like an apocalyptic stock-take.
It's a dark moment, but it feels natural within the context of the record's view of the world. The use of afrobeat, meditative chants, pop and dance styles act as misdirection, Eno and Hyde are busy lamenting the loss of faith and ability to navigate modern life, yet wrap this melancholia in sweet, seductive instrumentation. This is, however, both a strength and a hindrance on Someday World. The tracks can jar a little on first listen due to the juxtaposition of melody and message, and in some cases it can feel a little saccharine - the ending of A Man Wakes Up is too bright and optimistic, its paranoid opening replaced with gospel chants and clean guitars that undermine the impact of the song's other three minutes.
The album really excels though in its second half, where it rarely puts a foot wrong. In fact the only real fault lies in the final minute of Mother Of A Dog. What starts as a brooding piece mired in Eastern rhythms and a cyclical vocal pattern that lulls the listener into a trance, ends with summery guitar riffs and pop-rock harmonies that seem tacked on as an afterthought. It's a shame as the rest of Mother Of A Dog is one of the album's highlights.
When I Built This World is the album's standout track, and its positioning as the penultimate track makes for a fitting denouement to the record. The vocal modulations on Hyde's voice are brought to the fore for the opening minute and a half, creating an ominous voice, that removes all humanity and conjures cyberpunk visions of artificially created life "built with sin and pain". It recalls some of the vocal effects utilised by Falling You, who often draw from spirituality in their lyrics.
However, When I Built This World also uses some really interesting musical changes that allows the song to flit between dystopian visions and more euphoric passages that give the track a sense of urgency and humanity. The first time it happens we're back in the realms of funky rhythms, but this time with strings thrown in for a more cinematic flourish. The latter portion of the track takes things further, adding in horns and a quick snare beat. There's an incredible sense of progression as different sounds begin to build and layer, there's even a snippet of bass that sounds like the opening riff of Burning Down The House buried in the mix.
As the penultimate track, it does a great job of drawing together the musical and thematic ideas of the record. It's melancholic, but also immensely liberating, with its final rhythmic flourish really showcasing how both Eno and Hyde have a knack for creating infectious music. It also leaves the way clear for To Us All - a blend of chill-wave and pop-rock, with some elegiac vocals. It's a glimpse at the end, an end which has been sign-posted throughout the record. If Someday World is to be understood, then it is to be viewed as a rumination on life and its demise. In that way it doesn't just draw musically from Eastern and African music styles, but also from their belief systems and world view. Someday World shows us our trappings and our mortality, but rather than get overly sentimental, or even revert to doom-mongering, it creates something fun. At no point do Eno and Hyde seem to take things too seriously. Those horns in particular seem almost like a comedic flourish, a wink from the duo to let you know that it's ok to get up and dance, even if the world is falling apart around us.