Karl Hyde is still best known for his work as half of Underworld, who rose to fame with the inclusion of Born Slippy NUXX and Dark & Long (Dark Train) in the soundtrack of Trainspotting. Whilst the other half of the duo Rick Smith has been working on the soundtrack for Danny Boyle’s post-Olympics film project Trance, Hyde has set about crafting his first solo offering, Edgeland.
It’s a debut that sees Hyde working with producer Leo Abrahams, with whom he’d previously collaborated on the Brian Eno project Pure Scenius. Eno’s influence can instantly be felt with opening track The Night Slips Us Smiling Underneath Its Dress, with a rhythmically disjointed, yet simplistic piano melody that’s repeated throughout the track. The timbre remains eerie and atmospheric, with ever more complicated rhythmic features being added layer upon layer to the track in such a way that it almost becomes impossible to identify its most significant features – only for it all to be interrupted by a synth solo. If this sounds like sonic chaos, it is; and the uneven musical structure of the opening track only adds to a sense of continuous sonic ambiguity that overrides the rest of this nine-track album.
As an album, Edgeland is greater as a whole than the sum of its individual tracks. Much in the same way that Bon Iver’s self-titled second album flows from one track to the next, Edgeland, in the words of Hyde, “is a map of journeys… and the stories overheard on the way.” Incessantly experimental, with tracks such as Angel Café morphing into an Irish folk ballad underlain with slap back echo and otherworldly sounds that call to mind the likes of Kraftwerk and Philip Glass; the relative simplicity of the album, with mere references to these different styles, is its most intriguing feature, and the feature which lends to this over-riding nature of ‘completeness’ as a body of art.
There is a feeling of emptiness, of something deliberately missing, throughout the album. This is by no means a negative observation, but it leaves the opportunity for reflection within that empty space, much in the same way as the most recent Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album Push the Sky Away does with tracks such as the opener We No Who U R and Jubilee Street; there’s a shared sense of maturity and an eerie sense of aural space to the works of both artists.
This sonic maturity has surely been fostered by Hyde’s output with Underworld and, whilst there are obviously distant influences of the duo’s output on Hyde’s solo work – quite natural after 33 years of writing with Smith – it is encouraging to not see a tribute album within this project but, rather, an album of genuine, standalone worth, with its infectiously reflective and chilled-out mood and experimental tendencies.
Yet with all this experimenting, Hyde still manages to maintain a realistic outlook lyrically and one which, as he describes, becomes a “celebration of the idiosyncrasies of people and places”. With lyrics such as “the streets smell of weed and everything’s orange as we touch down, it’s not the end of the world” (The Boy With The Jigsaw Pattern), Hyde often juxtaposes the gritty with the psychedelic.
Edgeland is a well-rounded album, and a well-intentioned and successful project. The album almost becomes a single piece of music, merely split into smaller tracks for easy reference. This makes it difficult to pick any particular stand-out moments. The euphoric Shadow Boy is complimented by the sincerity of Slummin’ It For The Weekend, and the prismatic The Night Slips Us Smiling Underneath with the simplicity of Cut Clouds. Overall, this is much more than a chill-out album; there’s a level of depth here which showcases Hyde’s musical maturity and sensibility.