England - Full Moon 82 - 06/14/03
Like the Cinematic Orchestra last year, Four Tet - aka Kieran Hebden of post-rock stalwarts,
Fridge - is doing weird things with jazz. Not that this is new. Jazz has been doing weird things
to itself for decades - that's its point. But in this recent strain of twisted-beat electronica,
the century-old art form sees its artistic ambition revitalised, married to a technology and
modern sensibility that tweak it almost beyond recognition.
The jazz impulse remains, though. Hands opens the album, and eases in on a 'found sound' symbolic
of the whole record. It's a heartbeat, one that seems to trip on every fourth beat. Rounds itself
is a similar proposition: warm, familiar, inviting, but always rhythmically wrong-footing you.
Check the initially intrusive, atonal bursts of noise that intersperse the groove of "She Moves
She". As the mind and ears shift to accommodate what Hebden presents them, the track somehow
transcends the flinty, epileptic beat into something more soothing than it has a right to be. This
is electronica you can neither dance to, nor ghettoise into the background - you're forced to
listen. Throughout, Hebden gently weaves piano motifs, snippets of acoustic guitar and narcotic
beats, so the sound and mood constantly shift, carrying your attention with them. The frenetic
pacing and cascading wind chimes of "Spirit Fingers" bring a darker tone, counter-pointing beautifully
the stately "My Angel Rocks Back And Forth". This is distinctly un-easy listening.
"Both Hands" and "And They All Look Broken Hearted" seem to move along like a jazz quartet
tuning up. Brushed snares and cymbals that would normally recede for an opening bass groove simply
build and coalesce until looped percussion becomes the rhythm. Just as inspired is "As Serious As
Your Life", where Four Tet is at its most accessible - and you know you've found the track you'll
be putting on mates' compilation tapes for years to come.
In truth, though, Rounds comes as a whole. The album in microcosm comes about halfway
through, when an epic, nine minute track rides in on a crisp, neck-snapping hip-hop break, but
then introduces a delightful piano, understated strings and strange backward phasing until it swells
into some sort of free-jazz face-off. The imagination, fed such evocative music on a regular basis,
could come up with anything. The track's called "Unspoken", and like all the music on Rounds,
what's left unsaid is what frees the limits on this music, what enables the listener to conjure
their own images. So, I'll say no more. Now it's your turn.
Copyright © 2003 James Caig