Karl Hyde: Edgeland

One half of Underworld goes solo and avoids the two main pitfalls of doing so, redundancy and pointless novelty.

Karl Hyde


Label: UMe / Commercial Marketing
US Release Date: 2013-05-07
UK Release Date: 2013-04-22

It's natural to be little suspicious of solo albums, especially the first solo album by someone who's productively worked in a group setting for years (and maybe extra especially when that group is still a going concern?). Popular music has a rich, sometimes hilarious history of musicians who are famous and/or beloved ditching their usual collaborators, at least temporarily, for all sorts of reasons. But often those reasons range from pointless to megalomaniacal, and not even fans tend to like the results in those cases.

The good news, then, is that Karl Hyde doesn't sound like he's gone solo (or ostensibly solo, at least; here he's working with Leo Abrahams instead of Rick Smith) because his day job had stopped doing good work, he felt like he needed more of the spotlight, or was somehow stifling his creativity, or anything like that. True, only the brief, drifting "Cut Clouds" really sounds like it would fit on an Underworld album (as an interlude, such as "Skym", "Good Morning Cockerel", and so on), but most of the songs here are the same kind of intriguing half-step away from Hyde's usual metier as Jónsi's excellent Go album was from Sigur Ros's music.

The key to the vast majority of Underworld's work as a trio and then as a duo is propulsion. Even when their songs are slightly less dancefloor oriented or when Hyde is untapping his stream of consciousness in less emphatic fashion, Underworld songs are always moving forward, forward, forward. Edgeland, in conception and in name an exploration of life out on the margins instead, rather determinedly resists the idea of propulsion in general. There are refrains and melodies, often quite lovely ones, and the music is absorbing and gorgeous on a moment-by-moment basis. But these little explorations are more interested in wading into the dreamier end of Hyde's observational flow, and in presenting interesting/beautiful sounds for examination, than in making anything you'd sing along to. In some ways, Edgeland feels like it's more about poetry and sound design than songwriting.

That's not really a complaint; both the poetry and the sound design are top notch, and they give this album's songs a wonderful painterly quality. To the extent that Edgeland nods to genres, it partakes in small ways of both synth pop and chamber pop, but the result isn't really a hybrid. It's hard to say exactly what tracks like the romantic reverie "Your Perfume Was the Best Thing" or the early-morning ache of "Slummin' It for the Weekend" are, let alone the opening "The Night Slips Us Smiling Underneath Its Dress" as it's propelled along by a random-seeming piano loop or the sprawling, gently soaring "Shadow Boy". With relatively minor shifts in sonic tone and emphasis, maybe some of these, like "The Boy With the Jigsaw Puzzle Fingers" or "Shoulda Been a Painter", would be Underworld songs, but they don't feel lacking or undercooked, just different. It's Hyde's reflective singer/songwriter album, except that he and Abrahams are more adventurous and inventive sonically and compositionally than that makes it sound.

Did Hyde need to switch collaborators to make these songs? Maybe not, but he and Abrahams have done a wonderful job, and certainly whether or not Smith had been involved it would have been weird and maybe even off-putting to release Edgeland as an Underworld album. Formed out of Hyde's love for cities and the humanity that exists there, these vignettes and impressions are a small-scale kind of triumph, but a triumph nonetheless. The tightrope solo albums have to walk is between being, on the one hand, redundantly close to the artist's day job and, on the other, aimlessly novel in comparison just for the sake of restlessness or novelty. Edgeland is neither: it's fully realized and identifiably from one half of Underworld while clearly and immediately being its own thing with its own charms. The result is an album that's likely too oblique for mass appeal, but that should be treasured both by anyone who has a taste for these kinds of self-contained, gorgeously appointed sonic miniatures and by Underworld fans who appreciate Hyde's dreamier poetic side. Underworld is unquestionably the more "important" facet of Hyde's work for now, but with this album he shows that his solo stuff is a wonderful addition to that, not a distraction or detraction from it.





Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.


Inventions' 'Continuous Portrait' Blurs the Grandiose and the Intimate

Explosions in the Sky and Eluvium side project, Inventions are best when they are navigating the distinction between modes in real-time on Continuous Portrait.


Willie Jones Blends Country-Trap With Classic Banjo-Picking on "Trainwreck" (premiere)

Country artist Willie Jones' "Trainwreck" is an accessible summertime breakup tune that coolly meshes elements of the genre's past, present, and future.


2011's 'A Different Compilation' and 2014 Album 'The Way' Are a Fitting Full Stop to Buzzcocks Past

In the conclusion of our survey of the post-reformation career of Buzzcocks, PopMatters looks at the final two discs of Cherry Red Records' comprehensive retrospective box-set.


Elysia Crampton Creates an Unsettlingly Immersive Experience with ​'Ocorara 2010'

On Ocorara 2010, producer Elysia Crampton blends deeply meditative drones with "misreadings" of Latinx poets such as Jaime Saenz and Juan Roman Jimenez


Indie Folk's Mt. Joy Believe That Love Will 'Rearrange Us'

Through vibrant imagery and inventive musicality, Rearrange Us showcases Americana band Mt. Joy's growth as individuals and musicians.


"Without Us? There's No Music": An Interview With Raul Midón

Raul Midón discusses the fate of the art in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. "This is going to shake things up in ways that could be very positive. Especially for artists," he says.


The Fall Go Transatlantic with 'Reformation! Post-TLC'

The Fall's Reformation! Post-TLC, originally released in 2007, teams Mark E. Smith with an almost all-American band, who he subsequently fired after a few months, leaving just one record and a few questions behind.


Masaki Kobayashi's 'Kwaidan' Horror Films Are Horrifically Beautiful

The four haunting tales of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan are human and relatable, as well as impressive at a formal and a technical level.


The Top 10 Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Films

Serious science fiction often takes a backseat to the more pulpy, crowdpleasing genre entries. Here are 10 titles far better than any "dogfight in space" adventure.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.