Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Song of the day

"DBF", by Eno - Hyde.

Or, Brian Eno 2014 = Neil Young 2012?

I had never made a particular connection between the careers of Bob Dylan, Richard Thompson, Neil Young and Brian Eno. But it is there: all of them (roll Ed Kuepper into the mix if you like, for some Australian content), in their own way, treat albums not so much as Major Artistic Statements as somewhat random and arbitrary snapshots of what they have been up to, or where their thoughts are at, or even how they are feeling on a particular day.

Eno perhaps less so, but, as the recent excellent overview by SFJ over at the New Yorker alludes to, Eno is a (non-)musician whose reason for continuing is the work itself, and an interest in seeing where a particular idea or collaboration might lead. Thus the fact that he might disappear (aside from his regular high-profile production jobs) for years at a time doesn't mean he is not working, only that nothing that he has created has, by whatever internal slide rule he uses, seemed to him fit for turning into an album.

When that moment strikes, though, there seems to be no stopping him. Whether his partnership with Warp has been conducive to his releasing albums on a regular schedule I cannot say, but after a decade or so in which Eno largely went missing from the record racks, he has, since 2010, been at the helm of five albums and an EP. These have, to my ears, been of varying quality, but "Lux", from 2012, is the magnificent pinnacle of his "ambient" work, and now we have "High Life", his second collaborative album in two months (not a typo) with Karl Hyde, whom you might know as a member of Underworld.

The first of those two albums, "Someday World", failed to hit its (or any) target. If the collaboration had ended there, it would have sunk without trace, a fleeting footnote in both of their biographies. "High Life", though, makes it work. (Hence the question raised at the start of this post. "Americana" was perhaps a slightly dodgy album in its own right (although I do love the way a sixties garage sensibility breathes life into such moribund entities as "Oh Susannah" and "Tom Dula"; plus, Neil Young's discography is not short of slightly dodgy albums) but as a warm-up lap for the enormity of "Psychedelic Pill" (an album about which I have significant reservations, but I think I can see what he was getting at; if nothing else, it just needed a bit more work -- and a sharpened butcher's knife to cut out the large amounts of fat) it at least makes some kind of sense.)

"High Life" is a wonderful record. It is dripping with a sense of the sheer joy of making music. Many of the tracks may be nothing more than sketchy ideas not fully resolved or developed, but they work just fine as they are, and these old guys are to be applauded for letting them go in this state. It is hard to see how they could have been improved. Eno's stamp, not surprisingly, is all over these tracks. (I am at this stage finding it difficult to isolate Hyde's influence, but even if it was no more than standing off to one side and encouraging Eno to follow his own instincts (which I'm sure is not the case) his time was hardly wasted, his joint credit hardly undeserved.)

What does it sound like? It sounds like David Byrne's guitar from "Remain in Light" together with that album's strangulated funk. It sounds like the backing tracks from "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts". (Curiously (or not), it sounds more like my idea of what a Byrne and Eno album should be than the actual Byrne and Eno album that came out in 2008, "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today", which was in many ways the diagonal opposite of "Bush of Ghosts". This might say more about me than about the record. It might also suggest that Karl Hyde and I were listening to the same records at the start of the eighties and were drawing the same things from what we were listening to. This would make Karl Hyde the ultimate Fanboy Enabler. There are worse things.)

Nowhere does it sound more like these things than on "DBF". You know those outtakes / incomplete ideas that were included on the CD reissue of "Remain in Light"? You could slip this track in amongst them and nobody would even notice. "DBF" is one of the shorter tracks on the album. It's a bit like the Energiser Bunny: wind it up and watch it go.