Six days of the week I walk from Euston station to the theatre and back again. It takes about 15-20 minutes each way and I like musical accompaniment. For the last few weeks I haven't been able to resist the fourth album from Kieran Hebden under his Four Tet moniker. The music matches my footsteps, helping to power me through wind, rain, snow and even the occasional dry day too. Lumbered with the 'folk-tronica' tag that never really made much sense, the appeal of his music to me has always been the organic feel that his use of sampled acoustic instruments brings to proceedings. On his latest release which is his most overtly 'dance' oriented record yet, a result of his DJ sessions at Plastic People, he still manages to retain something of that organic feel, whilst providing an evocative soundtrack for my walk through the city.
Angel Echoes is a beautiful beginning with an ethereal, sampled female vocal and swirling chimes that somehow smooth over the rigid time signature. That ethereal sound is repeated several times on the album, particularly with the female vocals. Love Cry is the first bona-fide dance track, nine minutes of deep-house with the all the build-up and break-down you'd expect from a floor-filler, and Hebden's trademark harpsichord-like strings and electronic squawks and bleeps. Circling is a deceptively simple track reminiscent of Boards Of Canada, the rolling 6/8 rhythm creating what feels like layer upon layer of competing melodies circling around each other (when in fact they're all working together). Sing is another one for the dance-floor, almost seven minutes combining electronic sounds with far more ethnic-sounding drums and percussion and another ethereal vocal that sighs and reaches rather than sings. This Unfolds is another lengthy track at close to eight minutes, but with a slow, chilled-out feeling which somehow manages to contain a vast array of echoing whistles, percussive elements, and its lead melody without ever feeling over-loaded and cacophonous. Reversing, as the title implies, contained reversed samples in its short ambient pause before those DJ sets unleash the track that bears the club night's name, Plastic People. Rattling percussion shakes alongside the insistent house beats and another chimed melody. It's the kind of track that deserves a summer night, and which in a chilly February provides me with something of a Ready Brek glow. The album finishes with She Just Loves To Fight, closer to what you might have expected from previous Four Tet releases, a pleasant, sunny amble and a pleasant end to proceedings.
Monday, 15 March 2010
There are two things that make Four Tet's electronica stand out for me. Firstly there is a pleasing complexity to the sounds he collages together. Each successive listen allows you to identify something new, and by focussing on one particular theme the same track can give a different kind of enjoyment each time. There is also something soulful and heartfelt about his music (literally on Pablo's Heart which is an 11 second recording of his godson's heartbeat) which makes it far more palatable than the sterility of much electronica and far more likely to entice you back for further listens. Hebden has said that he wants his album releases to be like documents of his own musical journey and this latest is like a collaborative effort between him and the Plastic People crowd, with tracks tested and developed in response to them. But included amongst those dance oriented tracks are sounds and samples that lie like hidden treasure and come from a very personal place - 'I always put little references to my life in the music I've made'.