Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 66)
The eternal trouble with creating the instrumental downtempo album is figuring out how pretty can something be before it just slips away. Until its tracks are lost amongst “study music” playlists. Consider DJ Shadow, who’s 1996 masterwork Endtroducing…
was plenty pretty when it wanted to be but also caked in nervy dread, its tracks soundtracking imaginary opening credits to thriller movies. Four Tet’s (Real name: Kieran Hebden) debut Rounds
pulls plenty of inspiration from Endtroducing…
, lacing its tracks with boom bap drums straight out of an old Large Professor or DJ Premier beat but Hebden puts these dusty breaks at odds with something beautiful. A string sample or a music box, letting the two spar for a bit before blooming the whole song into something new.
Opener “Rounds” comes thudding to life with the sampled heartbeat of a dog before becoming a sample of what appears to be a tempo-less jazz break, falling apart all over the place and looped before it can converge into something structural again. Then, a new drumbeat enters, also sampled, and brings the whole thing into glorious focus. The missing puzzle piece snapped into place that shows you we’re looking in the wrong spots all along. “She Moves she” probably could have sustained itself with its quick footed break doing contract work for a twinkling sample of guitar and bells hovering above it but it instead slices a jarring error message of a sample that forces you to pay attention. “My angel rocks back and forth” stations a dark drum sample at one end of the room and a heavenly harp sample at the other and let the two curl into each other like wisps of fog. The drum loop underpinning “Unspoken” starts with real head knock force but grows lighter as Hebden delicately applies layers of piano, guitar, and feedback on top of it.
What keeps Rounds
attractive though is the lightness Hebden brings to the proceedings. He never sounds like he’s taking himself too seriously, letting a squeaky toy invade closer “Slow Jam”, and Rounds
conveys the joy of taking two unrelated samples and watching them click together in perfect harmony. Despite some of the darker elements on display, Rounds
is an inviting listen, one that uses its jazzy textures to sketch tender panoramas. It’s the kind of album that so eagerly cuts the listener in on the nature of its construction, a tribute to the dusty records that were sliced apart to create it.