Four Tet Rounds

[Domino; 2003]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: IDM, hip-hop, electronica
Others: How cool would it be to invent a musical genre? The Chemical Brothers gave us big beat. Saunderson, May, and Atkins brought techno into the world. Chas and Dave blessed us with the Cockney knees-up.

The time has finally arrived for the return of Four Te's solo member, Kieran Hebden.  I's been two long years since the release of his second album, Pause, and since then a number of accolades have been thrown his way for the creative laptop explorations he's come to be known for.  With plenty of talent, and a soon-to-be guest spot as the opening act for Radiohead, one could justifiably draw the conclusion that Hebden has clearly impressed all the right people.  If you've heard any of his music, you know why he's been getting so much respect over the last several years.  His first two albums, Dialogue and Pause, epitomize the idea that quality, original music can be made with nothing more than good software and a computer.  What sets Hebden apart from the others in the industry is that only a few are capable of keeping things as fresh as he does with the same amount of tools.  With that in mind, i's extremely awe-inspiring to hear the production level of this album considering the type of equipment that was used.

The scope of Four Tet records may remain the same, but there's no doubt in my mind that Hebden keeps getting better with each release.  Four Te's latest effort proves that he is growing artistically, and is continuing to elaborate on the marriage of synthetic and organic sounds.  The samples used on Rounds are now more influenced by jazz than folk, and are the key components to discussing this album.  The manipulated tape loops and samples of children's voices are just as prevalent here as they have been in the past.  Obviously, Hebden is now more concerned by conveying a certain mood, rather than seeing how many times a hundred samples can be manipulated.  This is the heart of the album, and in the end, makes for a much superior sound.

Take the intro track, "Hands,," for example.  Hebden's maturity level is at its height here.  It begins with the simple sound of a heartbeat that is gently taken over by the soothing sounds of a jazz ensemble.  Have no fear, though, because just behind all this is one of the hardest beats I've heard him use in quite some time.  I would also venture to say i's his best track yet.  One of the elements that remain the same on Rounds is the use of the harp.  The harp has been an incessant part of Hebden's repertoire, as it adds to the element of serenity that makes Four Tet albums so enjoyable.  "As Serious as Your Life," is a bit of a departure from the rest of the album; i's not as sophisticated as the rest of the songs.  The last song, "Slow Jam," gives a warm nod to his other band, Fridge.  With the main focus being set on the guitar, and a gentle sample of baby's voices, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that this song wouldn't be out of place on their last album, Happiness.

One could argue that this album has been made a hundred times, but the difference here is that the samples make the album.  Structurally, yes, it has been made before, but somehow Hebden continues to dig up and create some of the best samples around.  The beats and samples never appear to sound forced. I's this seamless marriage that helps pull everything together for Rounds.

If you've appreciated any of Four Te's albums in the past, have no fear that you will be more than happy with the new album.  If Hebden is just getting started (and getting better with each album), who knows wha's in store for us in the future.  All I can say is that he remains consistent, and Rounds will more than likely be the album that moves him a little closer to mainstream fans.  Once Radiohead has pulled you in, there's no turning back as to how far you can go.  For Hebden, the real challenge will be to show how many times he can improve on the same ideas.  Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to to go listen to that incredible first song again.

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