I have a basic mistrust of "hype". I talked
about this a bit the
first time i saw Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, so i won't
go into it too much here. Let's just say that a lot of people
told me that Rounds was one of the best albums
ever. Given the fact that Four Tet is the solo project
of Kieran Hebden, drummer in the post-rock band Fridge
(who i adore), and given that i rather enjoyed Pause,
his previous solo album, i was inclined to believe the hype.
This is in direct contrast to what Flava Flav once said, and
much to my own dismay. (Note to self: "Don't believe the hype".)
Basically, this is a good album. It contains lots of interesting
little laptopped sounds and glitchy beats. It features some
interesting melodies, and in general is rather listenable. It
is not, however, something that will transform mankind as a
species, nor is it an instant masterpiece that will change music
in its wake. In fact, i find that Rounds does
very little to advance the IDM genre, and instead serves as
good summation of where IDM is at this point in its existence.
That is to say, well, this is a pretty generic album. It's good,
but it breaks no boundaries.
Which is fundamentally disappointing to me because, well, i
believed the hype. So i have taken many months to try to come
up with an impartial assessment of it. I hope that i have succeeded....
What distinguishes Four Tet from the crowd is that Hebden is
an actual drummer and not just a programmer. There are many
drum loops used on this album that sound really clear and fresh,
as if he recorded himself drumming and then messed around with
the tracks on his laptop. This makes the beats on this album
fresh and exciting. And i suppose it helps that Hebden is a
pretty good drummer to begin with.
All of the songs are catchy. Hebden has a pretty good sense
of melody, even making some of the tracks hummable, a feat which
is too uncommon in the IDM world. Still, of the ten tracks on
Rounds, four of them really stand out to me.
She Moves She combines a really good beat with banjo
and tinkling wind chime sounds. It's an interesting tune done
with unusual sound samples. The melody is pretty catchy, and
the whole song ends by disintegrating -- as if the files that
make up the individual sounds just got corrupted in mid-play.
Piano and a good rock drum riff (heavy on the kick drum) combine
in Unspoken. The drumming really makes this one, although
the piano, computer noises, and eventually even jazzy horns
that are layered in, help to flesh it out. The beat though,
that's the attraction for me. Hebden is one excellent drummer.
I said above that most of the drumming sounds like Hedbden
sampled his own performances, but on And They All Look Broken-hearted
i don't get that impression. The drumming here sounds old and
scratchy and almost mono, like it came off a very old jazz record.
He has cut it up and spliced it into interesting loops, and
then layered some classical guitar over it for a fascinating
Finally, Hebden wraps up Rounds with a song that
sounds like it might have come off of Happiness,
from his band Fridge. The aptly named Slow Jam features
a nice guitar bit, good drumming, dynamic bass work, and strange
glitch noise. If you take out the glitch, you end up with something
that sounds remarkably like Fridge, which is a good thing.
Now, those 4 are the tracks that really stand out to me. Rounds
contains 6 more tunes, and i cannot point at any one and say
that it is weak. That is to say, Hebden mantains a pretty consistent
level of quality in his work.
Overall, despite my residual disappointment that this album
is not, in fact, the earth-shattering masterpiece i was led
to believe, this is a damned fine album. If you have enjoyed
The Postal Service,
The Notwist, Her
Space Holiday, or any of Hebden's earlier work, then you
need to pick up a copy of Rounds.