The two most compelling electronic acts of the last five years are, arguably, Four Tet and The Books. Well, and Prefuse 73. Caribou, too. And then there are all those electro-clash artists like Annie and M.I.A. And Junior Boys, while we’re at it. But all these artists aren’t important right now. It’s Four Tet and Books that I want to talk about. The reason these two artists seem to be doing something more interesting with electronic music than anything else lies in the non-electronic part of it. Both acts have been combining samples with acoustic sounds, hybridizing styles in what would ultimately, and unfortunately, be called “folktronica.” But this year, there seems to have been some kind of polarizing effect on these two artists. While The Books have moved further into their folk side, embracing quieter sounds and more subtle textures, Four Tet has gone even more `tronic.
Everything Ecstatic, the latest album by Four Tet mastermind Kieran Hebden, seems a lot dancier, a lot heavier and a lot more psychedelic than before. Where Hebden once had wrapped his songs in subtle sheets of syncopated percussion and peculiar melodies, he’s opted for something much more visceral this time around. Everything Ecstatic has a looser feel, one that eschews the (un)conventions of IDM and aims for something much more passionate, much more intense and likely to screw with your head. Folk music, this ain’t.
The drums on this record could echo loud enough to fill coliseums. Opener “A Joy” alone consists primarily of drums, and heavy ones at that. And should the title not be self-explanatory, “Sun Drums and Soil” is a Sun Ra head trip set to wild, crashing, almost fearsome drum breaks. The jazzy element in Hebden’s repertoire hasn’t been abandoned, but rather pushed into more Bitches Brew style fusion territory. All of the songs are, of course, in much more digestible forms, however.
Hebden takes a surprising journey into trip-hop on “And Then Patterns,” as springy, slinky coils of sound expand and contract between the looping beats, and twinkling xylophones and various other sounds chime and hum, interrupted by malfunctioning R2D2 glitches on “High Fives,” which treads more harmonically percussive terrain, mallets plinking away at glockenspiels and that damn droid buzzing and squeaking away. And then, of course, there’s the epic, almost eight-minute electro jam “Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions,” which emphasizes the synthetic over the organic as Hebden gets his Kraftwerk on.
What remains consistent throughout each track is the hypnotic quality that Hebden conjures up, refusing to give in to his basest instincts, no matter how dance-oriented or primal the music gets. This isn’t “dance” music, it’s something different altogether. You can dance to it. Or you can get lost in the interwoven melodies, the bits and pieces of subtly placed sound. Either way, you’re guaranteed one unique and ultimately amazing experience.