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Four Tet | Rounds (Domino)
Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet is twenty-five years old. This in itself is unremarkable I realise. 'Rounds' is, however, his eighth album (he has released five as member of post-rock luminaries Fridge). It is also his most accomplished to date - and what an accomplishment. To follow 2001's astounding 'Pause' must surely have been an unenviable task. To do so with such mastery is a sign of Hebden's prodigious talent. It is, therefore, unsurprising that Hebden is garnering praise from all corners. It seems, for the moment at least, that he can do no wrong. And for once such acclaim is rightly deserved. For 'Rounds' is a stunningly gorgeous album, bursting with rich textures and honeyed grooves. It is an unerring example of intimacy and intricacy, as Hebden, yet again, strikes the perfect balance between man and machine. At times it is hard to believe that 'Rounds' was produced solely on computers - weaving field recordings meticulously into sampled and manipulated instruments and layered rhythms - it's just so warm and welcoming. This ability to sculpt and even reinvent sound, to remove objects from one context and give them another perspective, is one of Hebden's greatest strengths. Like a prize magician, he takes things familiar to the audience and boldly cuts them up before putting them back together again. Only like the woman in the box with her legs sticking out where her head should be, the instruments are no longer wholly recognisable. On this album alone a Chinese banjo, thumb piano, harp, gamelan, and god knows what else (a child's squeaky toy!) are flipped and reversed, sped up and slowed down, chopped up and spliced back together. And yet what he produces are not meaningless exercises in being clever, but breathtaking and moving pieces of great beauty. Take slow brooding epics like the piano led Unspoken or As Serious As Your Life (that recall DJ Shadow in his prime) or the current single She Moves She which stutters and shudders with Hebden's trademark jerk 'n' jive production. It is not the complexity of his patterns that make Four Tet so appealing but the fact that they tap directly into your soul and make you feel so damn good. And this is an album that exudes good feeling - the best feelings, the fondest memories, the sweetest desires and dreams. It's sunsets and early mornings and the smell of fresh coffee. From the opening sample of a heartbeat, this deftly crafted record grips the listener like a big old hug and pulls you in tighter and tighter with each repeat play. Ok, so it ain't rock 'n' roll - it's just too lovely. But that's not a criticism. And in these intolerant and troubled times a hug is a precious thing.
CWAS #12 - Summer 2003