June 04, 2005

Four Tet "Everything Ecstatic"

It must be tough to be an innovative artist. Four Tet's Kieran Hebden struck upon a lovely, pastoral style that borrowed equally from folk and electronica, which he blended into a really mellow, traqunil groove quite geniusly on his laptop. The next thing you know, his new style is given a horrible name ("folktronica") and imitators quickly flock to diluting this once-lovely idea. Can you blame him for wanting to quickly distance himself from that budding musical scene?

That's where Everything Ecstatic comes in. While his previous albums--2001'sPause and 2003's Rounds--contained computer-made obsessively detailed and beautifully complex songs that do not sound computer generated at all, Everything Ecstatic consists of computer-made songs that intentionally sound computer-made. It's a bit of a shock to hear the opening notes of "A Joy," because it doesn't sound remotely like Four Tet of the past. A loud drum beat that then throws into a trance-like beat that's almost Big Beat in nature and definitely sounds like something that came from the mind of Tom Rowlands? That's not what Four Tet's about!

Initially, Everything Ecstatic is a shocking listen. Suddenly, Four Tet's about making records with a definite funk influence. The appropriately named "Sun Drums and Soil" is nothing more than the sound of drums getting louder..and louder...and louder; near the end, there's a brief hint of Four Tet's previously pretty style, but it's brief. Then it's back to business, with the drums taking over Hebden's mind, with brief hints of former glories shining through, such as the lazy "High Fives," which tempers the mellower moments of the past beneath the sound of wind chimes mixed in with a funky drum beat.

Let's not dismiss Everything Ecstatic, though, because there are a few bright spots that redeem it. The joyous, sunshine beat of "Smile Around the Face" sounds like a private psychedelic reel of a brightly technicolored merry-go-round, its swirling melody happily illuminating the listener's world, and it's hard to listen to it without moving your feet or cracking a smile. Perhaps the best moment on the album isn't so much a song, but it's the fact that songs like "Turtle Turtle Up" and "High Fives" contain proof that Hebden's capable of mixing both old and new styles together. Sure, it might sound shocking now, but he's not only capable of blending the funky with the folky, he's dropped enough hints to show that it's probably just a matter of time before he strikes a balance of the two.

If Everything Ecstatic isn't Four Tet's most essential work, it's not a write-off, either. Instead of looking at it as an experiment that didn't quite work, it should be considered a reaction to--and a giant step away from--the trend he accidentally pioneered. What Hebden develops for Everything Ecstatic's follow-up will be his true test of his artistic merit.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.fourtet.net
Label Website: http://www.dominorecordco.com/usa

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