Kieran Hebden is Four Tet, whose Rounds album crept onto the scene two years ago in a breath of fresh air under the dubious tag of ‘folktronica’. Undoubtedly it’s one of the classic albums of its genre, mixing acoustic and electronic noise in a collage of laptop sounds both exciting and familiar.
Four Tet also apply for the tag that ‘quiet is the new loud’. The once nerds are now the new underground saviours now that jazz and prog rock are being reappraised once more (see The Mars Volta, The Bad Plus (covering Nirvana) and Swedish jazz-mentalist Jaga Jazzist) but does anyone know what they sound like? Occasionally heard scoring some ‘lifestyle’ programme on the telly, there’s little else beyond being the favoured ear-noodle choice of Mr Thom Yorke. Which is a criminal shame.
The Opener, A Joy, threatens to throw the whole folktronica tag into an Aphex Twin-style mashing of disregard, based around a corkscrewing fuzz bass riff and a drum loop, interspersed with backwards percussion. It’s an eardrum grabber and all the more scary for it. The tone is heavier, harder and more aggressive due to the percussive weight and emphasis on breaks, instrumental snatches dropped into the mix to devastating effect. Like DJ Shadow‘s Endtroducing, this is a dynamic drum beast with many layers of sound to pick away at like a musical scab.
Influences are a variety of world sounds from across the spectrum from Krautrocking Can, Aphex Twin, MF Doom, Gamelan music, space jazz king Sun Ra and the more pastoral moments of purveyors of ‘music concrete’.
Recent single Smile Around The Face goes some way to reclaiming the blissed-out splice and dice of earlier works , although more similar to Hebden’s other band Fridge for its fractured beats and random free-jazz stylings. Drum loops dominate again, with an ascending phase but this time with a sample of the closest to a human voice you’ll hear, albeit tweaked to abstraction, lending some warbling warmth and innocence to the unravelling head music.
Sun Drums And Soil rattles along like the bastard offspring of Sun Ra tootling like a tune possessed, desperately trying to communicate with other lifeforms. Immense, intense and infected with a voodoo hoodoo that you don’t dare do.
Phased thrills peak and pop out of And Then Patterns like the proverbial ‘analogue bubblebath’ in a beautiful mix of piano underscoring a rolling drum break, feathered with spiky glitch wings. Described by Hebden as “a hip-hop ballad” to make out to with your girlfriend”, it’s the closest thing to bliss this side of the tomb.
By contrast, following track Turtle Turtle Up is just plain unnecessary with its brief throwaway noodling. Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions could blow speakers for England as it fries electrodes in a serious bleep-fest, again Aphex Twin-style.
So, not as immediately grabbing as Rounds, this balancing of the more bombastic sonic thrills with the more ambient (You Were There With Me and Clouding) puts the album in danger of satisfying neither to their best effect. These disparate elements could be separated into two camps of pagan ritual and spiritual communion given their differing effects, but given time they seep into the soul in perfect harmony, making for an album of considerable depths, beauties and terrifying contrasts. Business as usual then.