Often, [a]Four Tet[/a] make you feel like the floor is slipping away beneath your feet....
Often, [a]Four Tet[/a] make you feel like the floor is slipping away beneath your feet. There’s something profoundly queasy about this music: about how samples ooze in and out of the mix; how squitting electronic glitches tussle it out with seesawing dub fx and supremely dislocated samples. ‘Dialogue’ offers the curious sensation of being happily seasick, a new kind of trip, a mind-expanding jazz for the Cubase generation.
[a]Four Tet[/a] is, fundamentally, what Kieran Hebden has done in his spare time over the past year or so, when he wasn’t working on his Computer Science and Maths degree at Manchester University, or busy with his band, the decent and productive post-rockers, Fridge.
His solo music, however, is a much more complex and satisfying beast; as the [I]NME Single Of The Week[/I] status accorded to [a]Four Tet[/a]’s two singles thus far attests. ‘Dialogue’, undeniably, draws heavily on the legacy of jazz – check ‘Misnomer’, all shifty beats and shamelessly [I]nimble [/I]chores. But unlike many jazz-influenced British electronic records of the past couple of years (notably the wretched, wank-stained goatee jungle of 4 Hero and LTJ Bukem), it’s the crusading spirit of this inspirational but derided music that’s most prevalent here, not the tinkly faux-sophistication so often passed off in its name. A sense of transcendence and freedom and newness, in fact, that links it to 1999’s most radical and innovative sample-pilots.
Which is where Kieran Hebden comes in. Quite possibly, parts of ‘Dialogue’ are reminiscent of the darker corners of an early-’70s fusion album which your correspondent has never had the (mis)fortune to hear. In the absence of this knowledge, [a]Four Tet[/a] sound pretty fresh, relentlessly bright and often strangely moving. For sure, there are occasional familiar tricks: the cut-and-paste textures and gamelan ethno-jangle redolent of Tortoise on ‘Calamine’ and ‘The Space Of Two Weeks’; the way Hebden loves to suddenly detonate a piledriving new drum sample in the middle of tracks with the professorial vandalism of DJ Shadow.
But mostly ‘Dialogue’ is a deeply unanchored, solipsistic and imaginative album. If there’s a recurring trademark, it’s Hebden‘s knack of sampling high and free saxophone flurries, cutting them up, then splattering them over dappled and elusive pieces like an audio action painting, especially on the stand-out tracks ‘Chiron’ and the astounding ‘Aying’ (Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders-style mystic Indian jazz blasted and updated, more or less).
You may want to lie down after listening to this album. You may actually have difficulty listening to it whilst standing up anyway. That’s ‘Dialogue’: uneven, but in the [I]best [/I]possible way.