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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 82 - 06/14/03

Four Tet
Rounds
Domino

Like the Cinematic Orchestra last year, Four Tet - aka Kieran Hebden of post-rock stalwarts, Fridge - is doing weird things with jazz. Not that this is new. Jazz has been doing weird things to itself for decades - that's its point. But in this recent strain of twisted-beat electronica, the century-old art form sees its artistic ambition revitalised, married to a technology and modern sensibility that tweak it almost beyond recognition.

The jazz impulse remains, though. Hands opens the album, and eases in on a 'found sound' symbolic of the whole record. It's a heartbeat, one that seems to trip on every fourth beat. Rounds itself is a similar proposition: warm, familiar, inviting, but always rhythmically wrong-footing you. Check the initially intrusive, atonal bursts of noise that intersperse the groove of "She Moves She". As the mind and ears shift to accommodate what Hebden presents them, the track somehow transcends the flinty, epileptic beat into something more soothing than it has a right to be. This is electronica you can neither dance to, nor ghettoise into the background - you're forced to listen. Throughout, Hebden gently weaves piano motifs, snippets of acoustic guitar and narcotic beats, so the sound and mood constantly shift, carrying your attention with them. The frenetic pacing and cascading wind chimes of "Spirit Fingers" bring a darker tone, counter-pointing beautifully the stately "My Angel Rocks Back And Forth". This is distinctly un-easy listening.

"Both Hands" and "And They All Look Broken Hearted" seem to move along like a jazz quartet tuning up. Brushed snares and cymbals that would normally recede for an opening bass groove simply build and coalesce until looped percussion becomes the rhythm. Just as inspired is "As Serious As Your Life", where Four Tet is at its most accessible - and you know you've found the track you'll be putting on mates' compilation tapes for years to come.

In truth, though, Rounds comes as a whole. The album in microcosm comes about halfway through, when an epic, nine minute track rides in on a crisp, neck-snapping hip-hop break, but then introduces a delightful piano, understated strings and strange backward phasing until it swells into some sort of free-jazz face-off. The imagination, fed such evocative music on a regular basis, could come up with anything. The track's called "Unspoken", and like all the music on Rounds, what's left unsaid is what frees the limits on this music, what enables the listener to conjure their own images. So, I'll say no more. Now it's your turn.

Copyright © 2003 James Caig e-mail address

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