|Four Tet - Everything Ecstatic|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Matt Fink|
|Tuesday, 31 May 2005|
Okay, we get it – you’re a genius, Kieran Hebden. Your blending of free jazz, electronica, acoustic samples and hip-hop beats on four Four Tet albums (and another four with post-rock legends Fridge) has proven that much. But while Everything Ecstatic was a solidly engaging album when it first hit the shelves during the summer of ‘05, some of its underdeveloped melodies and overstated production make it seem somewhat unworthy of this kind of detailed treatment now. Whatever the case, you’ve decided to give us 10 short films to add a visual component to every swirling synth, every computer belch, every furious drum loop you sewed into the wordless patchwork of the album. You might have done this with one of your better albums, say 2003’s Rounds, but your judgment is usually beyond question. Genius, after all.
Like the original audio-only version of Everything Ecstatic, the visual
version is hit or miss, full of brilliant ideas that collapse on themselves and half-realized ones that work better than they should. Enlisting the talents of a small army of filmmakers, the videos range from amateur handheld camera footage to complex CGI and experimental video techniques. As with Hebden’s visionary mixing of acoustic and electronic, of disparate genres, textures and melodic motifs, not all of it works.
The growing cacophony of “Sun Drums and Soil” – a standout mélange of furious beats, spongy keyboards and bleating saxes – seems poorly served by the seemingly random parade of images, running from a spinning crystal globe to a blurry kitten to flags blowing in the wind and taxis passing under a tree. Similarly confusing is the visually striking but thematically muddled “High Fives,” where a magic raindrop is followed as it splashes in puddles, drops on people’s faces, and apparently causes them to sprout an extra set of eyes above their regular ones. The sepia-toned slaughterhouse cartoon paired with “Turtle Turtle Up” fits the mechanical paranoia of the arrangement well with its assembly line imagery, but the gruesomely accelerating depiction of sinister workers systematically shooting, beheading and disemboweling pigs can be a bit much.
That said, despite the also-ran entries, the most memorable of the videos are nothing short of transcendent. The richly cascading beats, shimmering soft synths and chipmunk coos of “Smile Around the Face” are perfectly paired with footage of a man somberly going through his day’s routine. With a camera mounted in front of him to lock on his expressionless face, the man is captured getting on a bus, falling and opening up a cut on his head, giving a child a piggyback ride, and dipping into a bath – showing nary an emotion the whole time. Though he never says a word or cracks a smile, his disarmingly distracted face and sad eyes echo the melancholy in the song perfectly, enriching the aural experience and adding another layer of content to an already standout track.
Similarly, the bizarre montage of Hebden’s head skewered on a stake, a prancing panda and menacing men dressed as ticks in “Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions” manages to steal the show from Hebden’s serene computer blips and mewing synthesizers, with the images matching the arrangement’s sonic pileup in an flood of fascinatingly indecipherable images. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the handheld footage of a woman repeatedly jumping and twirling – in the middle of the road, by a waterfall, on a roof, in a music store – against the serene backdrop of meditatively clanging bells and faint beats. It’s a simple concept – one that doesn’t seem to fit the tempo or texture of the song at all – and it ends of being memorable for that reason, establishing a striking visual motif for an otherwise commonplace track.
Taken as a whole, this is a package that probably only devoted Four Tet fans have any real reason to purchase, and though the visual buffet is endlessly entertaining the first time around, it fails to reward repeated playings. Ultimately, it’s a noble experiment that just about reaches its lofty ambitions of creating a visual parallel for Hebden’s rich sonic tapestry. More than anything, though, Everything Ecstatic proves that, even in a diminished form, it’s hard to find an analog for genius.
As always, Hebden creates an astoundingly diverse set of textures and tones to be explored. This collection presents Everything Ecstatic in its entirety, and even on his more meandering arrangements, Hebden’s deft mixing of live percussion and drum loops, of electronic textures and acoustic ones, and aggressively manipulated samples with live overdubs rewards repeated listenings. Throughout, his production is bright and bold, with every instrument presented in sharp contrast to the others in the mix, and even his lesser ideas dazzle with their complexity.
For those not so interested in the visual buffet, a five-track CD is added as an addendum to the original 10-track offering. At 35 minutes, it’s nearly as long as Everything Ecstatic itself, due largely to an extended revision of that album’s “Turtle Turtle Up,” a brief track whose rolling drums and evil Nintendo groove hardly warranted a 16-minute evolution. Here, that track mutates through multiple passages, picking up a driving backbeat before sputtering out into a sound collage that erupts into a thunderous groove of drums and computer misfires. “Sun Drums and Soil (Part 2)” updates the original with oscillating keyboard hooks and glitch-rock beats, leading in to the hypnotically clanging “Watching Wavelength” and the surprisingly straightforward synth-pop groove of “This is Six Minutes.” All in all, the tracks are inferior to anything on Everything Ecstatic and probably could have been left in the vault.