Four Tet: Everything Ecstatic

In which Kieran Hebden casts aside any lingering traces of the 'folktronica' label with which he's been saddled since Rounds. That Hebden had grown weary of the style was intimated by the raucous meltdowns he issued following its release, pieces like the 23-minute “As Serious As Your Life (Live Version)” and his remix of Pedro's “Fear & Resilience,” both of which threatened to engulf the listener with cataclysmic force. On his fourth Four Tet full-length and first new material in two years, there's nary an acoustic guitar to be heard and the mood is anything but bucolic.

While a heavy drum presence has always been a key part of the Four Tet sound, that dimension is pushed even further on Everything Ecstatic, a fact confirmed by the opener “A Joy” where, powered by a relentlessly churning bass growl, drums flail and thrash tumultuously. That emphasis emerges in multiple other places too. After Hebden's steamrolling attack opens “Sun Drums and Soil,” the piece briefly adopts a controlled yet spacier sound before expanding its trance-like broil into denser free episodes. Its name taken from a kind of thumb wrestling game he was taught in Taiwan and apparently Hebden's ode to the Orient, “Turtle Turtle Up” pairs acidy synth burble with delectably loose drum rolls and splatter.

There are many other sides to Everything Ecstatic beyond drum-heavy workouts. “Smile Around the Face,” for instance, is a rambunctious romp that resembles a faerie house band wailing at a late-night acid party; despite the sunnier tone, Hebden still finds room for inventive drum patterns that lend weight to the concoction's airy feel. Following disorienting abstractions of electronic scratching, “High Fives” struts with a vibraphone shimmy, suggesting a gamelan-turntablism communion. That gamelan dimension surfaces in the lulling closer “You Were There With Me,” a dreamy setting of glistening bell tinklings, and in “Clouding,” a meditative interlude of bells, chimes, and flutes that reveals Hebden's affection for musique concrète. With its strolling gait, “And Then Patterns” oozes a seductively skanky hip-hop feel though the rather melancholy piano line draws a clear connection to Rounds; the song remains, however, more a groove than a fully-developed composition.

The music often challenges description, with tracks not slotting easily into established categories; though it spans stylistic multitudes, something like “Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions,” for example, ultimately remains cohesive in spite of that broad latitude; at nearly eight minutes, it's also the album's epic in length and scope. Opening laconically with a sunkissed array of bleeping synths, the piece intensifies three minutes in when a thrumming drum pattern surfaces and then stokes the song to ever more hypnotic proportions; at the six minute mark, the addition of voices and acid patterns elevates the song to even more disorienting levels. Imposing a single label upon the song would fail to capture the panoramic breadth of Four Tet's sound, a judgment one easily extends to Everything Ecstatic as a whole.

May 2005