Monday, May 5, 2008

Ringer EP - Four Tet

Ringer EP
Four Tet
Domino Records.

SCQ Rating: 83%
Wishlist Counterpoint: 74%

Kieran Hebden should be commended for the way he manages his output as often as for the work itself. For an artist as prolific and versatile as Hebden, creating distance between his freestyle jazz project with Steve Reid (where Hebden goes by his own name) and his Four Tet moniker is an ingenious feat. Under one name, Hebden is free to explore and galvanize various experiments without injuring the name of Four Tet, his super-successful guise and its immaculate discography. All the same, for every project Hebden has undertaken since 2005 (several Steve Reid collaborations, a Fridge record and a billion remixes), the long wait on Four Tet’s imminent return only raised expectations.

And if history teaches us anything, expectations are just what Hebden needs to fuel his contrary creativity as ‘Ringer’ is perhaps the most glaring example of an inaccessible Four Tet song. On Rounds he crafted the perfect comfort music for melody-loving electronica fans. With Everything Ecstatic, Hebden turned on hip-hop and dancehall fanatics. Here - although you could argue that this is catered toward the underground trance enthusiasts - we find Four Tet exploring his own artistic boundaries, and these four lengthy tracks are all proof that his careful compositions won’t succumb to the area of dance music most often ridiculed: its repetitiveness.

Starting its near-ten minute running time with an airtight techno coda, ‘Ringer’ breaks into a half dozen directions at once; two fluttering melodies, a thumping 4/4 beat and digital noise crawling the song’s corners while its trance stitches hold strong. What keeps the whole song sane is that these aspects never clutter, and through the album’s entirety, each song is made of several mini-suites held together by its pulse-steady rhythm. By the time ‘Ringer’s live drums come trampling in, one can’t help but feel like they’ve discovered something important.

Despite this rare explosion of percussion, Hebden seems to be making it clear that no one in the music press will typecast him as DJ juggernaut in dance circles the way Everything Ecstatic did, the same way he ensured that nobody would pigeon-hole him into “folktronica” after Rounds. With beat-making, his almighty muse in 2005, retreating from the foreground of his songwriting, Four Tet seems intent on undergoing his latest transformation into electronica’s more delicately detailed playground. ‘Ribbons’ would be a bubbling ballad if its beat’s RPM weren’t as complex as they are. It’s a calming breather spatially, although its bass-heavy beat is as persistent as the rest of Ringer EP’s material. On the issue of space, ‘Swimmer’ is lost in it for the first few minutes of tepid drones and steady thumps before some keyboard chords introduce us to the song’s backbone. These slow builds, which characterize the EP to a fault, are ever-present on final track ‘Wing Body Wing’ which builds toward its digital, percussive thud after two minutes of seemingly aimless rock-clapping and wood-tapping. That clever, winking side to Hebden’s recordings is what separates Ringer EP from falling into trance’s predictability pit, and if you have to set aside some extra time for the payoffs, that anticipation is infinitely better than most Ibiza soundtracks, where you get the payoff before it has significance and then endure it burrowing into your skull for twelve minutes.

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