On High Life, the second of two collaborative albums between Brian Eno and Underworld’s Karl Hyde (the first was the more diffuse and less engaging Someday World), Eno revisits the worldly art-funk that has characterized some of his finest work. Going back to his earliest forays as a producer, especially for Talking Heads circa Remain in Light and David Bowie during his late-’70s “Berlin trilogy,” the often cerebral Eno reconnects to the simpler joys of jamming and letting grooves breathe. Hyde plays guitar and Eno mans the controls, with vocals and all sorts of other adornments added by both.
“Return” begins bracingly, with a couple of rudimentary electric guitar chords that roll out for nine minutes, with ample texture and space around the edges of an endearingly simple groove. It’s like a sketch for a Jesus and Mary Chain song. “DBF” has an Afrobeat spine that links a bulbous bass line to clipped, staccato guitar and a fuselage of drums, plus exhilarating strobed electronic effects. “Time to Waste It” slows down into a mid-tempo dirge, with heavily processed vocals that invoke both the electronic label Tri Angle Records (see: Holy Other, Balam Acab, etc.) and the late, great Ween.
Each of High Life‘s seven entrancing songs makes a major virtue of simplicity. There’s an infectious sense of Eno and Hyde, both seasoned veterans with decades of sound-making between them, just playing around in the studio and getting lost in what even the simplest music (or especially the simplest music) can do.