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Four Tet

Domino

It was appropriate that Four Tet’s last album, Rounds, opened with the lub-dub of a beating heart. That breakthrough record’s immense, accessible charm lay in the cozy tapestries that Kieran Hebden, Four Tet’s sole member, wove out of folksy guitar, spare vibraphone, and just enough glitchiness to prove his knob-twirling bona fides. His new follow-up, Everything Ecstatic, however, opens with a sound nowhere near as organic: a jazz-kit breakdown and a bit of bass windup that gives way to a hyperactive, crash-cymbal-heavy break. That opening is still plenty appropriate, though. Instead of the measured naturalism and subdued hook-crafting listeners have come to expect from three previous albums and several years’ worth of Four Tet remix work, Ecstatic trades in something more bombastic, less graceful, and disappointingly familiar. Take the disc’s emblematic song, “Sun Drums and Soil.” Forget the earthiness promised by the title; the drums should have been given sole billing. Sure, Hebden gives us plenty of familiar Four Tet elements: vibes, chimes, a smattering of malfunctioning-electronics skitter. On top, though, are breaks—big, obnoxious breaks just about indistinguishable from every other one that has flooded the post-Endtroducing….. world. That somewhat ill-conceived pattern—big drums obliterating Hebden’s neater, smaller stuff—continues for the following four tracks. On “Turtle Turtle Up,” for instance, it’s hard to marvel at the fortuitous placement of a tambourine shake or more of those rich vibes with an Ornette Coleman– esque free-jazz workout on top of everything. The one track on which the formula works out is “Smile Around the Face,” which offers a circusy, singsong hook every bit as indelicate as the percussion. Hebden does manage something more novel on the penultimate number, the 8-minute “Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions,” by steadily building a beat rather than merely layering samples. And at album’s end, on “You Were There With Me,” he finally offers something entirely different: an Another Green World– ish attempt at soundscape architecture. (An earlier instance, “Clouding,” doesn’t qualify as much more than an interlude at 1:43.) It’s lush, warm, and evocative—everything Rounds promised and Ecstatic doesn’t quite deliver. And wouldn’t you know it, about halfway into the track there’s a bit of muffled bass thump: that familiar heartbeat. Too bad it took nearly 40 minutes of tired breaks to get it started again.