Wild Mercury Sound
Four Tet's "Ringer"
A few years ago, I spent a good while being evangelical about something that was excruciatingly, and probably briefly, labelled ‘folktronica’. Before a bunch of rather insipid bands like Tunng seemed to take up that banner in earnest, I wrote a lot about the solo work of Kieran Hebden, who as Four Tet had moved through an electronic reconfiguring of ecstatic, cosmic jazz and was (circa 2001) building new music out of his computer and a bunch of arcane folk records.
Since then, Hebden has generally steered clear of that world, realising a lot of his jazz ambitions through a series of collaborations with the drummer Steve Reid. For the first Four Tet release in a couple of years, however, he has moved on again. “Ringer” is a half-hour mini-album that touches on a few familiar tricks that have returned again and again in the course of Hebden’s engaging career.
“Ringer” itself has the percolating, sloshing quality of some his earliest solo records like “Thirtysixtwentyfive” (when he was still generally preoccupied with his post-rock band, Fridge, and, probably maths), and there’s a sudden, fierce clatter of drums towards the end which reflects Hebden’s ongoing love of rhythm science.
But mainly, “Ringer” just sounds like a linear, gilded techno track, as does most of this set. I can’t imagine Hebden ever abandoning his diverse musical interests, but the hybridisation here is much more discreet, if it’s there at all. This is not unrelentingly hard music – “Ribbons”, in particular, is a beautifully subtle construction – but it does seem firmly rooted in an electronic tradition. “Swimmer” has a minimalist, driving pulse and ebbing melancholia to it that recalls a bunch of comps I have from the German Kompakt label, though the scrabbling details definitely align it to Hebden’s back catalogue.
“Ringer”, meanwhile, reminds me of something from the mid ‘90s, maybe a little earlier, maybe something that’s long fallen out of fashion like the Future Sound Of London. It’s a mark of Hebden’s confidence as a musician and a listener that, at a time when dilettantes like myself aren’t finding much electronic music to get excited about, he can release something so puritanical and absorbing.
I suspect, in fact, that his plan is to try and wilfully subvert fashionable expectations – after all, when he was hoarding those old folk records at the turn of the decade, the whole acid-folk/nu-folk/folktronic frenzy hadn’t really begun. Maybe it’s time for us to dig out those “Artifical Intelligence” comps and start to campaign for the return of – and has there ever been a worse genre name than this one? – Intelligent Dance Music?
Here’s hoping – maybe Boards Of Canada might even get round to making another record. Which is, obviously, an excuse to link to one of my favourite music videos, “Dayvan Cowboy”.