Four Tet

Everything Ecstatic

(Domino; 2005)

By Amir Nezar | 4 October 2007

Side projects are killing Four Tet. Well, not for sure, but considering the rate at which Kieran Hebden is spanking out the latest remix of the latest songs from the latest etc. etc. etc., and considering (comparative to the superlative Rounds) how confused Everything Ecstatic sounds, the speculation seems more and more plausible.

Suddenly, “ecstatic” is a synonym for “unfocused.” It’s more daring than Rounds, but that album (revisionists be damned) was at least as masterful as it was safe. Everything trades in mastery for tentative edgy steps that turn out to be toe-dips in a shallow pool, and even retreads... Manitoba’s Up in Flames?

From the first bass-loop of “A Joy,” it’s clear that Hebden’s moving in a new direction, but the task over the course of Ecstatic is figuring out --- to no avail --- precisely where on the sonic map that direction is located. Because following the darker edge to “A Joy,” “Smile Around the Face” plays with the same kind of sampling, percussion, and blithe melody that formed the bread and butter of Manitoba-cum-Caribou’s In Flames.

While Hebden has retained a great deal of jazzy percussion, playfulness, and sense of rhythm, the elements within and around those components waver in stylistic cohesion. Even within songs like “A Joy,” the music’s progression from the rough bass loop into an upbeat melody is jarring. “Turtle Turtle Up” creates an interesting juxtaposition of live drums and programmed synthetic loops and bleeps. But the project’s non-percussive never find a convincing thematic thread, and Hebden eventually relies on a melodic loop to carry the song’s substance. The same placements happen in “Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions,” resulting in what my girlfriend has called a "Sesame Street video game on Zanax,” and the description is surprisingly accurate.

Perhaps what’s most disappointing about Ecstatic is that its scatterbrained playfulness and indiscretions leave it with an unbearable lightness of being. While Rounds created a profound atmospheric resonance through its compositional subtlety and cohesion, the lack of a similar consistency of ethic on Everything Ecstatic leaves it without palpable purpose. It’s an intermittently interesting and somewhat forward looking work-in-process, but at the moment Hebden sounds like an underground hip-hop producer with a few ideas but no MC. But with his remixes all over the place, perhaps it comes as no surprise that his album follows suit.