Available on: Universal LP
Underworld are still going, of course, but Karl Hyde has been putting obvious effort and passion into his eponymous solo project, resulting in the debut album Edgeland. The result is unexpected; thick, major label-backed, acoustically driven independent pop songs with a folkish tinge, laced with soft electronics and David Bryne-like vocals. BBC Radio 2 beckons.
It can be easy to get acerbic about people from the ’90s dance era getting older and mellowing out, but frankly there’s probably only so far your serotonin transporters can take you before you start hearing some worrying whirring and thumping under the hood. But beyond that, I’ve always considered Underworld to be far more establishment than insurgent anyway, adopted as they were by the BBC and British newspapers as a safe musical rebellion they could cite and return to again and again, keeping them and others (Orbital, Moby, Fatboy Slim, et al) at the head of their bills and features. Hyde is therefore well placed to be the one making the Wogans of the world say ‘Gosh, that’s a really quite extraordinary bit of music, isn’t it? Lovely.’
But, in its own way, it is. Hyde’s combination of band ensemble with integrated electronic pads and samples, post-production merging the two further as a whole through an impeccable studio finish, is what makes Edgeland an achievement. At its best, such as in opener ‘Sleepless’, the electronic results are a lot like LFO’s Sheath, although the majority of the record concentrates on a palette similar to Apparat – granular tones, mixtures of low and high fidelities and sample rates – that blend successfully with a largely acoustic set of instruments.
Instead, it’s the songs on Edgeland I have my own issues with. The arrangements reminded me of all the kinds of safe, pleasant music I have never found to be an influence, nor even enjoyable, no matter how well written they may be – and they are obviously very well written. Perhaps it’s this streak in Hyde’s musicianship that explains why I was never interested in Underworld, a group I perceived as taking the best of underground culture and doing something with it I never thought benefitted it.
The upshot, however, is that by going solo Hyde is now doing the opposite; taking good electronic ideas and applying them to a music that could be taken somewhere new by doing so. While I wouldn’t listen to Edgeland again – and I’d be surprised if any FACT readers would buy it – it’s heartening to know that someone within this particular field is making music of this kind.3