Four Tet‘s Kieran Hebden takes control of the 26th album in the DJ Kicks series to give his unique take on 20 tracks spanning four decades and even more genres.
While any compilation such as this is worthwhile for the novelty of getting acts as diverse as Curtis Mayfield, Autechre, So Solid Crew, Cabaret Voltaire and Gong all together in one place and seeing if it can be made to work, you do have to keep one ear open to the fact that it is, largely, just that – a novelty – or at best an experiment, some of which works and some of which inevitably doesn’t. And as a single package, this doesn’t entirely, ending up sounding too much like an average late ’80s/early ’90s mix session that isn’t trying hard enough too push any boundaries.
The 20 tracks take up barely more than an hour, ranging in length from Cabaret Voltaire‘s Kneel to the Boss, at just 36 seconds, to Autechre’s Flutter, coming in three seconds shy of 10 minutes. With diversity like this on show you’d either expect every track’s identity to grab hold of the turntable and fight like hell for the right to be heard or to segue seemlesslessly into a homogenous whole. Instead most things fall somewhere in the middle: the first two tracks (David Behrman‘s Leapday Night and Syclops‘ Mom, the Video Broke) mesh into one so smoothly it’s hard to tell where one ends and the next begins, a criticism that’s just as easily levied at a good chunk of the middle of the compilation and a period towards the end as well. You kind of want something of the original to remain, and sometimes it doesn’t.
It’s the tracks that do retain their own identity that stand out – Curtis Mayfield‘s If Only I Were a Child Again swanning in after a couple of minutes to hog the dancefloor; Gary Davis‘ The Professor’s Here sounding like Cartman from South Park on Special K, holed up in a warehouse somewhere behind Kings Cross, and Shona People of Rhodesia‘s Taireva with its gentle woodwind and glokenspiels mixing with pan pipes in a good way (if you can imagine such a thing). Ironically Pockets, the original Four Tet track, stands out as well, as Hebden manages to hold his own head above the melting pot’s waterline.
Other tracks are certainly worth the price of admission: the spoken word fragments on Heldon‘s Les Soucoupes Volantes Vertes float in and out of the repetitive beats to give the album its trippiest two minutes. Madvillain‘s fractured rap does the job and Quickspace Supersport‘s Superspace also takes Hebden’s treatment well, ending up sounding like a slightly more psychedelic Denim. Deep in your heart of hearts you know that couldn’t possibly be a bad thing. But there’s also a little bit too much here that’s faintly pointless, such as the run-of-the-mill rappers that sound like they would on anyone’s turntable. And So Solid Crew? Silk purses and sows’ ears spring to mind.
Still, just when you find yourself really torn over its merits, along comes ten minutes of Autechre, which is much more like it. Of course it’s a track that’s designed to be fiddled with but we should be pleased for that. A nice, noodling radio unfriendly no-unit shifter that’ll make you smile, lie back and remind yourself of a small dark room at a half-forgotten All Tomorrow’s Parties where all music sounds like this and everything is right with the world.