Album Reviews

Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid – Tongues

(Domino) UK release date: 19 March 2007

Kieran Hedben & Steve Reid - Tongues The first few notes of Tongues give the false impression that we are in for a synth-driven celebration of pop, Prince-style. But as The Sun Never Sets continues, the burst of melody you expect never comes, as bleeps and other nuggets of sonic wizardry contrive to kick off an album that may seem to be nothing beyond mildly arresting background noise, but after a few listens matures into a beautifully crafted, if slightly stilted, whole.

What Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid lack in melody, they make up for in groove. Brain sees the ‘legendary’ Reid forgo his forty-odd years of drumming experience to seemingly pay tribute to the Meg White school of percussive simplicity. A frantic track, it is one of the album’s best.

Hebden’s Four Tet project were an early forerunner of the movement we’ve come to term now as ‘nu folk’, what with creating a bucolic and lilting mood from a laptop rather than a lute. Our Time is the closest thing on here to the Four Tet sound, while the famous traditional Greensleeves receives a makeover by these two that transforms it so utterly with crashes and zooms that is sounds like the horrific soundscape of an urban hell. This I do not want to hear again. Innocence destroyed, and it is to their credit.

Reid played with Martha Reeves and the Vandellas on Dancing In The Streets and has played with monolithic figures such as Miles Davis, Fela Kuti and Sun Ra. In 2005 he and Hebden united, and in a chaotic four days produced The Exchange Session Vols 1 and 2. While Hebden, strictly solo and Reid, always part of a large ensemble, may have had teething problems on those albums, they have hit an understanding on Tongues that should see them working together again. There is little doubt that Hebden wears the proverbial trousers, experimenting left right and centre with trance and dance oddities.

The secret to success when you are working with electronic junk and eschew melody, is to create a sense of frenetic urgency amid the shambles. Mostly, Hebden does exactly this, building from seemingly humble foundations to splendid climaxes on most tracks, save when he harks back to his beloved ambient folk. People Be Happy is the best example of Hebden achieving this reckless chaos.

Unfortunately, Hebden does not create a crescendo as often as he’d like. Rhythm Dance is plain boring unless you’re unhinged by some kind of substance at some kind of festival, while Mirrors and The Squid certainly are interesting and strange to the naked ear in terms of sound, but the lack of passion and exoticism becomes extremely monotonous.

Tongues will be of particular interest to those with lots of time to spare and sound technology students. And while it has its problems, by investing a little patience and open-mindedness, there will be a wealth of things to treasure underneath the surface confusion.

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Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid – Tongues