Album Reviews

Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid – NYC

(Domino) UK release date: 3 November 2008

Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid - NYC Ludicrously prolific as Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet is, rest assured that there will always be room for another collaboration with percussive partner par excellence Steve Reid.

NYC, their latest offering, was recorded over just two days in February 2008 at New York’s Avatar studio. The album aims to mirror the sound of the city and its energies, giving Reid the chance to explore his hometown’s aural landscape.

As you might expect, the result is more industrial than organic, dirty electronics and muffled samples recreating the engines and pistons of a city that never relaxes nor even drops its guard. Just like the duo behind it, in fact. NYC is their fourth album together in three years – if you don’t count Hebden’s contribution to Reid’s ‘solo’ efforts such as Daxaar. With every collaboration, their partnership grows stronger, ever evolving and ever pushing the boundaries outwards.

Here and there, snippets of something almost radio friendly will dart out, like the disco funk riff of 1st & 1st, as if you’re hearing it through the air vent of a back alley, where it rises from an underground club. There is a definite darkness about NYC: music of the night from the city that never sleeps.

In truth, however, this is less music in the traditional sense and more an aural painting, a string of sounds and soundscapes that recapture the roar of cars in the distance, of generators gently humming away and, beneath it all, the throb of a city pulsating with life.

Arrival is a perfect example – a deep, echoing layered slice of electronics that drags you down into the wires and concrete of the urban jungle. A million miles away from the Serengeti plains of Daxaar the influence of the African rhythms Reid explored on that album can still be heard, as though nothing is closed or unwelcome in the world’s ultimate melting pot.

As if to make its point, towards the end Departure pulls in snippets of an almost MOR guitar riff, bringing together all the varied threads of Reid’s career and welding them together in the Manhattan shadows.

As the album winds down, Between B&C incorporates simulated birdsong, that age old favourite of ambient electronica, as the city drifts towards morning and you walk along the dawn-kissed streets trying to remember where you live and where you left your head. The dancing piano keys of Departure herald your salvation, building up manically to a crescendo of percussion that comes from all directions before drifting off again, phasing into and out of a centre that’s solid, coherent and capable of taking anything Reid and Hebden can throw at it.

Neither of them could achieve this alone, and as they learn from one another, explore one another’s depths and push one another’s boundaries, the results are ever more experimental and ever more worthwhile. Luckily, at their current rate of attack, we should only need to wait a couple of weeks for the next instalment.

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