In the same way that there’s no such thing as a terrible Pablo Picasso painting, it’s hard to imagine Brian Eno releasing a record worthy of dismissal, let alone contempt.
Some of his 50-odd solo and collaborative albums may be more difficult than others. A few may require you abide by the composer’s request that listeners experience them as background music. Still others, like “High Life,” his new collaboration with Underworld’s Karl Hyde, succeed through monumental propulsion, more concerned with textures than with the gymnastic hooks of his early rock classics “Here Come the Warm Jets” and “Taking Tiger Mountain … By Strategy.”
The team weaves electronic tones, human voice and hypnotic rhythms to create a beefy work designed for maximum volume — one that pauses at the end to conclude with the open-air bliss of “Cells & Bells.”
“High Life” takes its name in part from a style of western African pop featuring shimmering guitar lines and danceable rhythms, a philosophy that drives big chunks of the record’s six songs. But from the first ringing guitar riff of “Return,” the Eno-Hyde filter channels myriad influences, including the classical minimalism of Steve Reich and the techno minimalism of electronic dance music.
The best track, and an essential Eno work in the larger scheme, is “Lilac.” Describing a lilac door “made of something like light, but not,” the piece is nine-plus mesmerizing minutes that roll along the same speedy groove, a meditation that seems to fly by in seconds.
Brian Eno and Karl Hyde