Four Tet
Everything Ecstatic

Kieran Hebden's latest LP offers oodles of energy and enthusiasm, but musical ecastsy is more elusive.

By Alastair Dant

Kieran Hebden is one of the finest samplists of our time. He said recently that he thinks of releasing new albums as “unveiling yourself to the public”. Thus far, he’s granted us some impressive views.

His debut Dialogue collaged together everything from Krautrock to free jazz and, in doing so, collected a cult following from indie kids to Wire readers. Pause cemented his reputation by artfully gluing shards of acoustic twang to bombastic hip-hop beats and shimmering swarms of bells and whistles. This sound proved so striking that many others tried to emulate it. By the time Rounds came out, his influence was so strong that a mob of mainstream music publications crowned him the king of “folktronica”. However, his magpie eye has always roamed far further than old Pentangle recordings, so it’s no surprise to hear this tag was beginning to drive him mad. In some respects, Rounds ended up a millstone around a neck that would rather be stuck out than pinned down.

Everything Ecstatic
reflects a wilful rebellion. From the moment the first track crashes in, Hebden is clearly set upon shaking off our preconceptions. According to the press release, he is determined not to repeat the past and wanted to create something “that wouldn't sound like anyone else; wouldn't even sound like himself.” In order to achieve this difficult goal, he seems to have set his sights upon the theme of ecstasy through musical release. This manifests itself in at least three separate ways.

First, we have a return to the freeform clatter found on Dialogue. Sun, Drums and Soil kicks off with a loose-limbed drum workout, then drops into a fat, tumbling groove that moves through mysterious swells of filtered organs until a rolling Rhodes riff leads us towards a gradual crescendo of hot colour. Sitting in that seething traffic jam of horn parts, it’s clear that our man knows how to coax life from computers, but all the more apparent that it’s easy to mistake coagulated noise for the boundless abandon of free improvisation.

Next, there’s an attempt to capture the spirit of the dancefloor. Having spent a lot of time on tour of late, Mr Tet is keen to harness the energy of his preferred audience – “raver kids going mental, with glow-sticks and the works”. This is no bad thing. A Smile Around The Face lets a woozy, gated chord sequence trip along happily amidst Kanye West/back to 91 vocal exultations and is bound to please the crowds. Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions moves things up a notch with a synaesthetic acid meltdown that grows so convoluted that perhaps the cutting engineers weren’t sure if could be pressed onto vinyl.

Finally, he dispenses with the frantic hubbub in favour of a little spiritual contemplation. Clouding and You Were There With Me drift by in a meditative mode inspired by the devotional works of Coltrane and Sun Ra. Bells, chimes and flutes form a concrète backdrop to slow swimming electronics and mesmerising drum pulses. Apparently, our host “wanted to make a soulful record, something that attempted to communicate beyond this planet."

As it stands, I’m not sure if this album achieves all of its objectives. Although it avoids the pastoral pleasantries of Pause and Rounds, it ends up closer to the firebrand fusion of Dialogue than something completely new and unexpected. Furthermore, whilst there’s certainly a lot of energy and enthusiasm in evidence, musical ecstasy is more elusive. Perhaps there’s a line to be drawn between the art of acid and the art ensemble of Chicago: electronic sequencers can certainly help to induce altered states of consciousness, but they can’t easily capture them. Drumbeats and temple bells can only convey the spirit of ecstasy if they are played by someone in its throes.
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