Folktronica. There, I’ve said it. That’s the lazy term often used to described* Keiren Hebden’s (a.k.a Four Tet*) warped, woozy style of music, which combines lush acoustic instrumentation with clipped beats and samples. Other artists deemed ‘similar’ to Hebden, such as Coleen, Manitoba and Matmos, have also had the misfortune to be placed under this tag, but it’s Hebden who has become the genre’s leading light. With new album 'Everything Ecstatic', it seems as if Hebden has decided to escape the term by leaving his guitar behind, and instead surround himself with xylophones, gongs, cymbals to create a lush, if uneasy, landscape. An eastern influence appears to have had an effect as well, with tribal drumming and wind chimes prevelant throughout the ten tracks.
Lead single ‘Smile Around The Face’ encapsulates this approach in every one of its 270 seconds. With a metronomic introduction, the track begins bleeds out of the speakers, high pitched vocal snippets backed by a Can influenced loop. It’s as if Kanye West’s chipmunks were drenched in absinthe, strapped to a carousel, and then recorded for all and sundry to hear. It’s also quite stunning, and one of Hebden’s best songs to date. ‘Sun Drums and Soil_’ combines tribal drumming, blurred keyboards and wind chimes before introducing Bitches Brew horns.
‘And Then Patterns’ begins with a beat reminiscent of the Beastie Boys' ‘Son of a Gun’, which then slips under a gentle piano loop, before a series of analogue bleeps take over. The pounding gongs of ‘High Fives’ would provide the perfect soundtrack to a samurai movie made by Spike Jonze, while ‘Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions_’ seems like a conversation between sock-em rock-em robots on top of an Autechre-lite backing track.
For the most part, Evertything Ecsatic succeeds, but occasionally Hebden strays from the path. ‘Turtle Turtle Up’ is lovely once the jarring introduction subsides to reveal a pastoral setting of chimes and xylophone. It’s far too short though, and maybe in extended form could have provided the heart to what could have been Hebden’s best work yet.
The album closes on the beautiful ‘You Were There With Me’, the type of music you could imagining hearing in a Japanese garden, and it’s fragility suggests it would probably break if you turned the volume up a single notch. If this is a pointer to where Hebden’s sound is heading next, then the follow-up to Everything Ecstatic could be quite special, and cast aside Four Tet’s folktronica tag away for good.
7Euan McLean's Score