Chimes churn like a fire alarm above a scrappy bare beat that sounds like crinkling cellophane. Drill noises overwhelm the chime before the tones begin to alternate, creating a sonic pulse as the beat gathers steam, and gentle melodics insinuate themselves between the sonic heartbeat, looping back on themselves as an insistent hip-hop beat takes hold, sounding like a pair of kitchen pipes being banged together. The sound is at once nearly incomprehensible and yet strangely alluring, expansive and psychedelic but painstakingly detailed and plotted. It's an unearthly sound, but produced to feel as warm as a late-'60s Phil Spector album.
Like those computer-generated posters that reveal their secrets only when you stop looking directly at them, there's rich intricacy and surprising depth of sonic detail to Four Tet's (aka Kieran Hebden) musical compositions. That complexity isn't always immediately apparent in what can sound, at times, like an entire record collection pasted together by the kitchen disposal. For a time dogged by the "folktronic" tag--as much for the smiling, easygoing vibe as his use of folk sounds on his last two albums, Pause and Rounds--Hebden chose to go in another direction.
"It's important to me that music always changes, and evolves and kind of moves on. I was never interested in repeating myself. The last record I made was more introspective, and I wanted to make a record that was positive and outgoing," Hebden says.
Ecstatic changes the pace dramatically and emerges as a distinctly more beat-driven affair. Stuttering percussive clatter implodes against blissful, slowly morphing textures like a Diebold safe dropped into a pond, rippling with the deep grooves that propel the album. It's an aggressive, sometimes dissonant take, but the spates of white noise, throttling Krautrock rhythms and battling instruments conspire with the Brit's rich melodic imagination to create a vibrant, pulsing recorded, finished in just two months to Rounds' year-plus.
"I wanted to make a more lively sounding record and I didn't want to have time to kind of calm down and become too studied. I wanted it to sound a bit chaotic. And I thought the best way to do that was to do it quite quickly," Hebden says.
Hebden points to Alice Coltrane's Journey in Satchidananda as a big influence musically ("it opened up a whole new world of possibility for me"), but he also cites Krautrock and hip hop.
"I'm always coming back to the records by bands like Can and Kraftwerk. It's definitely a great era as music," he says. "I'm also a huge hip hop fan. That was sort of the idea when I started this whole thing, the sort of collage of making loops and stuff. I got it all from hip hop really."
He works by recording directly into his computer and using software to morph the sounds. Harps are turned into bass guitars; lead lines will go forward then backward. But it's done in such an understated way so as not to immediately draw attention to itself, and it's recorded in a manner that retains a great deal of organic warmth around the sounds.
"As you listen to it, it evolves into something different. I quite like the idea of slightly confusing people as to what they're hearing," Hebden says. "I like to change people's perceptions of what's possible."
Recently he's changed his own perceptions, too, after performing with jazz drummer Steve Reid (Miles Davis, The Rippingtons). The improvisations in Paris and London were done without any rehearsals, and they went so well the two immediately went into the studio and recorded two albums for release sometime next year.
"It's just given me a ton of confidence and really pushed my technique to new levels, which you definitely use in the live context," Hebden says. "It was terrifying, but that's what made it so great as well. It was really so exciting. That was the pressure that pushed me to something more than I realized myself capable of doing, when I found myself playing with such an amazing musician in real time."
Four Tet performs with Cyne and Koushik at Local 506 on Saturday, Sept. 17.