Four Tet – Rounds (2003)

fourtet-roundsIf there’s one artist who defines my musical noughties more than anyone else, it’s probably Four Tet. “Everything Is Alright”, from his 2001 album Pause, was the first song I ever downloaded from the internet when I discovered Audiogalaxy on returning from university. Pause itself was one of the first albums I bought from the cute girl in the record shop, and proved to be a powerful gateway drug into a whole world of music that I didn’t really know existed, but which I’d been hoping for. From its beatific, cheeky, melodic, shuttling pastures I was lead to Manitoba, The Notwist, múm, Prefuse 73, and dozens of others, some of which I’ve picked up and put down again, and others of which have become absolute all-time favourites. Years later, when I married the cute girl from the record shop, she walked down the aisle to Four Tet.

His remixes have taken music by the likes of Radiohead, Bloc Party, Battles, Beth Orton, Sia, Lindstrøm, Pantha Du Prince, Thom Yorke, and more, and recontextualised, adjusted, and, crucially, always improved it, even if I already adored the originals. His moves towards house music in the latter end of the decade, starting with the Ringer EP and culminating in There Is Love In You and Pink, have taken his music in even more beguiling, dynamic, and emotional directions, beautifully following the artistic and aesthetic map I might have drawn out as an ideal fit for where I might’ve hoped his music would go when I first heard him.

What Four Tet does is both obvious and mysterious; he takes elements of hip-hop, experimental electronic music, jazz, folk, pop, house, krautrock, and anything else he likes the sound of, or so it seems, and spins it together into something new. His early work was typified by hesitantly beautiful and chiming half-melodies, jazzy skronks and tumbling drum fills that layer over each other in concentric circles, guitars, brass, harps, and unidentified electronic interference and decoration. To me, it is beautiful and charming and psychedelic, breaking down barriers between music and sound, joyously irreverent towards genre lines and expectations. I have no idea how he puts this music together, how much is sampled from old records, programmed on a computer, or played live and interpolated with other elements.

Today, in 2013, I’d pick 2010’s more determinedly electronic and dancefloor-oriented There Is Love In You as my favourite Four Tet record, but it falls just outside the parameters of this project. So instead I’ll rewind a decade, to his third album, Rounds, perhaps his most lauded release and arguably the apotheosis of the first phase of his career. From the opening muffled rattle and brightly stuttering melody of “Hands”, through the DJ Shadow-esque epic “Untitled”, which rolls on measured, melancholic piano chords towards a streaming, jazzy climax, and all the way to the five-minute meander of “Slow Jam”, the track we got married to, the whole of Rounds does little more than spiral and amble, charmed by its own beatific vistas. He designs sound like other people design fabrics or interiors or colour schemes. Yes, it’s little more than Sunday afternoon music, but Sunday afternoons happen once a week and they can be wonderful.

Since I fell in love with The Beatles, and possibly before, I’ve always loved filler; codas, interludes, segues, instrumentals, the bits between songs that no one else seems to notice or care about. Often, I prefer these moments of vatic calm to the songs they surround. Like the abstract art of Wassily Kandinsky, Four Tet’s music proves to me that music, and art itself, doesn’t need to be recognisably of or about anything specific; it just needs to stimulate a reaction, whether that be one of awe and wonder or just contented appreciation. There isn’t much music that I want to listen to as often as this.

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