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Four Tet - Everything Ecstatic

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Artist: Four Tet

Album: Everything Ecstatic

Label: Domino

Review date: May. 31, 2005

It's become hard to hear Kieran Hebden's abstract theories as Four Tet without thinking of Dan Snaith's Caribou. Four Tet's Everything Ecstatic shares many characteristics with Caribou's recent The Milk of Human Kindness: both artists reveal themselves to be true believers in the wisdom of Can, both make certain steps to express their reverence to hip hop, and both have proven themselves to be fantastic and evolving producers. And thankfully, the Domino labelmates have honed their sounds in relative independence of each others’ competing algorithms.

The refreshing return to heavy beats on Everything Ecstatic sounds more like the evolution of Snaith’s 2001 release Start Breaking My Heart than a follow-up to Hebden’s own Rounds. The breakbeats, many notches funkier than anything Four Tet has previously released, anchor nearly every song here, but there are certain identifying touches that are pure Hebden. A nasty TB-303 squelches out the opening bars of "Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions" and a harsh rhythm soon catches up, only to be calmed down by lazy guitar plucks. Hebden turns out to be a master of crafting the warmest sentiments out of dismal sounds, interweaving angular electronics with soft drum atmospheres. Right next to sprawling psychedelic sampling cut-ups, Hebden pays constant homage to the drum machine, freely trading live breaks for their synthesized counterparts to fine effect.

Where Snaith has been content to embrace real live guitars and drums, Hebden has held his ground in the sampled and synthesized world. He only lets a few customary "real" instruments – xylophones, harps, harpsichords, and the like – slip in amongst the synthetic. Still, Hebden has managed to make Everything Ecstatic sound every bit as grounded in reality as the softer The Milk of Human Kindness through superior production, a more diverse selection of breakbeats and Hebden’s first scratches on the break-psych door. Not sure when that place is open for business, but Hebden’s already at the front of the line.

Eventually, overloaded and clipped crashes begin to sound like sloppiness masquerading as unbridled catharsis, and the hasty stops and starts for dramatic pauses become outright predictable. At times, like on "Sun Drums and Soil" and "Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions," Hebden lets the drums spiral out of control, just barely reining them in enough to end the songs coherently. It'll probably take another album or two for him to really master the new art of psychedelic breakbeat re-construction.

Like the rest of Hebden's work, nothing here is really dance music. But head-nods during Everything Ecstatic will be difficult to repress. After an intro on "Smile Around the Face" that could almost be mistaken for a Chemical Brothers jam (in a good way), cartoony samples and synth glimmers pile into the mix. "High Fives" layers a tight-snared break with glitchy scratches and squeals, muted xylophone, and ominous timpani in a laid-back hip hop ride that sounds like a junglist's weird and happy alternate universe.

Even if it is hard at certain points to cut through the thick fog of psych drum riffs, Everything Ecstatic leaves ears ringing like a loud summer afternoon in the city – sun-drenched cacophony that doesn’t quite know where it’s going just yet.

By Trent Wolbe

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