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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 82 - 06/14/03

Four Tet
Rounds
Domino

Despite the rave reviews that Rounds has been receiving, I feel I have to raise a lone dissenting voice. It's not that I don't like this album - I do. But why on earth is such a fuss being made? Kieran Hebden's previous two records are so much better, and there's much more interesting music being made at the moment than this. Call me a cynic, but it feels to me as though this is just the kind of music that sounds cutting edge, but is reasonably accessible, so it gets many people wetting their pants just because they feel like they're part of the avant garde.

There's no doubt that this is beautifully produced; I can almost see Kieran hunched in front of a Powerbook, his face lit by the screen's glow, moving sound waves just so, and tweaking the EQ on that bassline so it's really, really funky. And there are some moments on here that are genuinely emotive: "Hands" is reminiscent of the best work of Fennesz, where the chaos and melodies are balanced so precariously that it takes the breath away; or the two final tracks, where most of the catchy hooks seem to have been saved up and then released all at once.

But too often the combination of seemingly disparate elements and styles becomes strangely predictable. What's the least likely thing to hear combined with this pretty Japanese harp sound? Ah yes, some fast dub bassline and hissing cymbal. The last thing you'd expect to hear rips in and then rattles away, and its the concept that is interesting rather than the execution. My friend Rich, with more conservative tastes than I, tried listening to the album and said that is was almost brilliant, but that certain sounds on it ruined it for him. For me, it is these forward-thinking musical ideas, challenging as they are, that get in the way of the straight-ahead beauty of a lot of what's going on here. Too preoccupied with being progressive and original, Hebden is sacrificing that which makes him most essential: his ear for an emotive melody and a instrumental atmosphere within which to set it off.

Frustrating in its brushes with genius, Rounds will sit on my shelf and I will stare at it, unimpressed at its smug cleverness, wishing that it could reveal more of its warm humanity. I don't know - maybe I'll give it another try soon and reluctantly join the consensus. For now I'd rather hear Dialogue or Pause to revel in Hebden's talents.

Copyright © 2003 Tim Clarke e-mail address

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