Four Tet | WIG126 | Released: 03/05/03

Image: fourtet_rounds

Four Tet’s third album Rounds is that most rare and wonderful thing, a fresh, innovative and even daring record that will have an immediate and indelible effect on the mainstream and the way we perceive popular music. This lofty claim is buoyed on the fact that Kieran Hebden (who is Four Tet) has here perfected the art of making records unlike any you may have heard before, while at the same time maintaining a true love of melody.

“When I start a record people think if it is any way different [from what I’ve done before] it’s some sort of rebellion, but it’s not,” says the man credited with launching “folktronica” with his last album, Pause. “My major aim is to be an innovator, but still accessible to human beings. That’s why Aphex [Twin] will be remembered for years to come, because he sometimes appears to have no influences whatsoever.”

For ‘Pause’ Kieran took his entry point as the mainstream musical innovation of Rodney Jerkins and Timbaland with their use of thumb pianos, harps and other unobvious instrumentation on R&B chart hits. Marrying this to an extrapolation of what would have happened had folky Bert Jansch made Krautrock, he delivered his groundbreaking second album and got a lot of people both listening and thinking. Here, he has deliberately tried not to think about what style of music it is he is making. The only proviso being that it is both new and has an emotional content.

“I used to be cynical about people saying that their music was a reflection of what was going on in their lives. But when I listen back and think about it, I realise that I am doing it myself and that ‘Rounds’ is totally me. I like a sense of melancholy and I like pop music. This record has a 2am lonely feeling, because that was largely when it was made, on my own, in my little flat.”

He also kept his sister Leila on hand with her hip-hop and punk records(“she likes to have fun to music,” he says like it’s a strange concept) to tell if he has gone “too geeky”. Kieran is both

“People come up to me after shows and want to know about software and how things are done. But there’s more to music than that. The strength of this record is hopefully you don’t notice the technique initially and just get the emotional impact. I like the idea of creating a record that you go back to and play again and get more out of it.”

Citing the way Miles Davis would abandon musical directions the moment they were identified and recognised, or how The Beatles and Beach Boys were obsessive about one another’s creativity, Kieran admits to being a voracious consumer of new music, chasing down “ropey MP3s” and CDRs of dubious origin to read the postcards from the edge of contemporary creation.

For Four Tet the ground rules include the notion that nothing is as it seems. There are no live performances whatsoever on Rounds. “The public’s conception of electronic music is a bit behind,” he says. “Most people still think it’s about synth sounds, but the real power of computers is their programming and editing capabilities. People say you’re such an incredible drummer, but I can’t play drums at all, and if they were to listen they would find out it’s all actually humanly impossible.”

Honed on the road during tours with Radiohead and Super Furry Animals, Rounds has had more public exposure to huge crowds on large sound systems than previous Four Tet ventures. And the influence of other real-time electronic pioneers such as Jim O’Rourke and Christian Fennesz is apparent throughout the record.

“The idea of improvising on computers completely changed the way I was making the record. In the last year audiences seem less confused about the live laptop thing and how to respond to it, which is great considering I’m standing on stage with nothing but two computers. It’s interesting and fun and not so obtuse and, of course, I can push it a lot and make it more random and more aggressive”, he says gleefully.

This he will be doing over the course of the Spring, in the splendid company of London’s Icarus (“they make sounds and rhythms from things like air coming out of a balloon”), and Jonathan Lomax & Nicholas Wrigley, each of whom only release their material on CDR in extremely limited quantities of around 50. Lomax and Wrigley are already five albums in, and sound, according to Kieran, “like drum and harmonium improvisations, echoing some of my favourite jazz and electronic music, but in a live setting”.

Rounds – which draws it’s title at least partially from the notion of singing rounds and repetition – is no less than 25 year-old Kieran’s eighth album (between his solo Four Tet work and band efforts with Fridge).

Moving, lovely, labyrinthine, invigorating, stimulating and exciting, Rounds is a record which sets the benchmark for the year’s releases and surely delivers Four Tet to a limitless audience of folk with ears to hear and hearts to feel.

The artwork for Rounds comes from photographer Jason Evans, who has contributed to all Four Tet albums.