You don’t even have to listen to Four Tet’s music to see how far removed it is from a sense of emotional immediacy. Just visit the Four Tet website. Look at the way Kieran Hebden announces his new album. Other minimalist techno artist resort to crazy marketing gimmicks to release their music. Hebden doesn’t even admit to being excited about having a new album coming out! He doesn’t admit to anything, besides the fact that some dude named Jason did the photography for that album!
The fact that Hebden announces album releases like other people announce a chance of light rain doesn’t mean he could care less about music. I think he just cares a lot less about releasing music than he does about making it. I don’t think I’m overreaching to say as much; Hebden works and releases at a Henry Ford pace.
If he doesn’t have a Four Tet album coming out (and he often does), he’s producing or recording something for his label, Text Records, collaborating with Radiohead, jazz drummer Steve Reid, or Burial, or playing all night sets in Brixton. I wrote the same thing a while back about Yo La Tengo, and I think it’s true of Kieran Hebden- he would be making music regardless of whether anyone bought a copy. He makes it for the sake of making it- he gets joy from the making.
This focus follows through into much of Hebden’s music – there is precision and lightness, a studiousness that ensures the process stays as important as the result. You can hear it in Four Tet songs, which crescendo and then do not over stretched, epic minutes. Though one can assume they are not products of improvisation, Hebden’s songs replicate the process of their creation; they are built, element by element over their length. By doing so, the songs challenge listeners- is a song more “complete” once all the elements are there (beat, melody, hook, etc.), as opposed to when those elements are building up? Are you as a listener OK with 15 seconds of climax in an 8 minute song? Are you here for instant gratification or can you hold on just a minute?
The whole thing (the lack of excitement in releasing music, the slow, deliberate pace of songs, the challenge to an audience) reminds me of Sol LeWitt and the instructions he provided for recreating his artwork. LeWitt was reluctant to speak about the motivation behind any of his work, but the idea that anyone could make a LeWitt, and that, perhaps the act of making such a drawing was powerful in itself, seems to mirror the emphasis on creative process you witness Hebden’s songs.
I’ve been listening to Fridge, Hebden’s band with his high school friends Adem Ihan and Sam Jeffers a lot recently. The band’s most recent album, The Sun, is across the board excellent. Similar to Four Tet, Fridge songs aren’t about a payoff; they’re about the build. The payoff sometimes doesn’t even arrive. Though it almost certainly falls into the genre of post-rock, Explosions in the Sky, this ain’t.
The most interesting moment on The Sun is when things appear the most human, the least purely instrumental. Listeners can surmise that “Lost Time” is different from other songs on the album because, from the start, there are real live human voices. This is rare not only because the rest of the album is entirely instrumental, but because, before they start singing, the voices on “Lost Time” seem to be planning out the song, talking about who will come in where in hushed quickspeak. Listeners are privy to a group huddle from a band that seems so precise, so meticulous and idea-driven. And then the group start singing, layering one voice over the next, and a real shift begins.
None of the voices on “Lost Time” voices are especially good at signing. They drop the melody, sing too high, chip their own keys and flatten themselves into muggy fuzz. That’s not to say they’re terrible, just that they’re pretty average- the way you or I might sing if we were asked to. But, as those pretty standard voices rise with the guitar, the impact they have grows as well. Compared to the stellar musicianship and feeling of composure in most Four Tet and Fridge songs, the track feels looser and maybe even a bit sentimental. While “Lost Time” is different from Hebden’s other work what it stands as is the proof that, even though Fridge might be doing it for themselves, there are doing it for themselves with delight.
“Angel’s (Four Tet Remix)” is an unreleased remix of an XX song.
Also, I know you do not need to be told to get pumped for the new Neko Case album, but all the same, this will get you pumped for the new Neko Case album.
Also, I know there is a slight chance you might need to get pumped for the new Califone album because it’s been a few years since their last one, this will nurture a heart-first crush on the new Califone album.
Second, The Quietus just posted their end of year list. Most of these lists are the same things in a different order. Regardless of if you agree with the choices on this list, many of them will be new to you. Kudos to them for that
Third, The music I loved and discovered this year which did not come out this year.
Maritime- Heresy and the Hotel Choir (Flameshovel)
Despite what today’s weather would tell you, Chicago’s in its gray stage, which will stretch, more or less, from now until mid-to-late-march. Some other cities have active grays, grays which produce snow or rain. Chicago gets its fair amount of snow, no doubt, but mostly, the gray just becomes a backdrop. Every conversation is layered on top of it; when you drive to the grocery store, you’re driving through it; when you file a police report for your stolen bicycle, you’re writing on top of it. Maritime are from Milwaukee, so they’re privy to about the same thing. So when I tell you that Heresy and the Hotel Choir is something unusual, what I mean is it leaves the gray out of the picture. This is an album of about the most downhill, enormous music I can imagine. Nothing toned down, nothing “enjoy it while it lasts,” nothing like that. Here’s something joyous.
Califone- All My Friends Are Funeral Singers (Dead Oceans)
Califone are the best kind of legitimately crazy scientists. They’re the kind crazy enough to actually come out of the laboratory. They start an album with a song which has a bassline which reads like a seismograph teetering on a cliff over a fault line, and then a few tracks later they give the listening public the closest thing to a single
track with adhesive and the looks of a nametag, the kind you stick in a pocket to show to a friend who is, for the first time, taking off the outer layer of gauze following a two year recovery from something that happened a year before you met him, and that single
track has the refrain, repeated, over and over, “All my friends are funeral singers
funeral singers.” This is something produced from test tubes used maliciously in a past life. Something a scientist concocts when they still remember the chemistry but not how to say hello quite right.
Richard and Linda Thompson- Shoot Out The Lights (Rhino)
Here’s one where they couldn’t even convince the acoustic guitars to stay quiet. It’s hard to think of Shoot out the Lights as a break-up album, because that seems so trite, and this record is so goddamn apocalyptic. Both Linda and Richard’s vocals heave themselves into your ears, and every note stings like blisters popping. This is bitter, hazy, terrible stuff. Sadly enough, it also happens to be great.
Marnie Stern- Marnie Stern (Kill Rock Stars)
So there’s a reason, when Brandon bought this one last year and told me it was as great as, it turns out, it is, that I didn’t buy it. While the songs on Marnie Stern are catchier than on either of her previous albums, they’re less grabby; they don’t have the HEY LOOK I’M SHOUTING IN YOUR FACE AND YOU’RE STILL THERE SO MAYBE I HAVE TO DO MORE THAN SHOUT of some of her previous material. It was said when the album came out, but it bears repeating for those who haven’t heard about Stern or may need reacquainting; where previously, she intoned, toothily and plugged in, on this album, Marnie Stern sings. She doesn’t have a great singing voice, but it’s perfect for these songs, these sad songs, these songs so clearly about their creator, the character of their album’s title. This is the time when Marnie Stern takes her own vocabulary and puts in heartbreak, self-doubt, a flushed-out feeling. Previous Marnie Stern album left listeners breathlessly asking, “who IS this?” Here’s your answer.
The Black Heart Procession- The Spell (Touch and Go)
These guys, like The pAper chAse, should be easy to dismiss. Not only are they gothy, but they are gothy and orchestral, and they call themselves The Black Heart Procession. Really? What allows The Spell to be a moving, timeless, and disquieting album is exactly how seriously they take what they are doing. Like the best purveyors of genre-fiction, these guys work within tropes and formulas (one part supernatural to two parts angst, with one sprig of cello to make the whole thing sounds 80 years older than it is), but do them extremely well. While a band like Cold Cave come off to me as phony, The Black Heart Procession are brilliantly macabre. Sure, it’s not easy to relate to, but the band occupies a world so meticulously constructed that disbelief becomes a non-issue.
Mercury Rev- Deserter’s Songs (V2)
This is one I have trouble explaining, because this album is so cheesily orchestral that I’m embarrassed to play it around friends. Its lyrics are so bad that it is approaches a low-key self-flagellation to listen too closely. On Deserter’s Songs, the band lays it on so thick listeners practically suffocate. This is all criticism. But it is also what makes this album so appealing. Does one have to chose between “bold” and “stupid” when describing the 80’s sounding sax solo at the beginning of the otherwise hushed “Hudson Line?” Can’t “Opus 40,” a song with enough orchestration to fill Carnegie Hall fifteen times over, be garish, sickening, and also very, very endearing? Can’t sometimes things which make you cringe because they’re trying so hard also be wonderful because you know so few others would bother to go as far? For me, in this case, yes, absolutely.
Next up is the best of the year. Stay tuned, friends.