Respect: Celebrating Four Tet’s 'Rounds'
The tenth anniversary reissue prompts various beatmakers like FaltyDL, Baths and more to reflect on the seminal album.
The labels "folktronica" and "IDM" seem like feeble attempts to capture the organic, contemplative ebb and flow of Four Tet's influential recordings. But it's a tall order to condense a definitive work like “Rounds'” into a three- or four-syllable descriptor. The LP, originally released in 2003, paved uncharted territory for producers interested in melding acoustic sounds and free jazz improvisation into the smooth pulse of electronic beats. Its heady grooves and accessible songwriting also attracted legends from outside the world of dance music; artists like Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead, and J Dilla were all seduced by Four Tet’s – aka producer Kieran Hebdan's – mesmerizing tunes.
A decade after the release of “Rounds,” indie giant Domino Records has put together a reissue, complete with a live recording from a Four Tet set in Copenhagen, due out May 13 (in digital, double CD, and double vinyl forms). When we reached out to fellow artists and fans to discuss their favorite moments on the album, the response was passionate and effusive. Check out what FaltyDL, Baths, Jon Hopkins, and more had to say.
FaltyDL (Ninja Tune)
“‘Chia’ is the shortest track—33 seconds. I'm not taking the piss; the reason I love this track (and love Kieran) is because he doesn't care about what the record label thinks you should do with an album. He may not come out and say that, but he did to me in a time last year when I was so worried about my own album. ‘Don't listen to the record label, they have no idea how to edit your tracks, and why should they?’ I have a lot of respect for an artist who does whatever they want on their albums and doesn't listen to anyone else but themselves. What's also dope about this record and that track is his next LP, 'Everything Ecstatic.' When an artist puts out an album, it's the culmination of a lot of work, and oftentimes their next album is as much informed by their frustration with the previous one as it is shaped by new discoveries. So, 'Everything Ecstatic' is the logical progression to 'Rounds.' But ‘Chia’ is not just an excuse for a 33-second track, it's also saying something. It may be best understood by its creator, or perhaps it remains a mystery to him.”
Jon Hopkins (Domino)
“‘Slow Jam’ really got me. Back in 2004, when I first heard the record, I was stuck in this rigid, quantized, and mathematical way of computer composing. ‘Slow Jam’ blew me away with how out-of-time and real it all sounded. It seemed to my younger, more conservative self that to have a snare drum that was so early should not be allowed, and yet I loved it. Also, you can't argue with the inclusion of the sound of someone stepping on a squeaky toy whilst a steam train goes past. I found the way the melodies intertwine so beautifully to be hypnotic, the perfect closer to the record.”
“I first heard 'Rounds' around the time [follow-up] 'Everything Ecstatic' came out, so I had one of those special private relationships with the record that I don't often get. ‘Slow Jam’ in particular quickly became one of my most playlisted songs. It has great context on the actual record, but my life with the song always came from including it on playlists alongside my favorite music. And it's kind of ridiculous how easily ‘Slow Jam’ fits in with all the other music I put around it.
“The guitar line is so good. So comfortable. Everything is so simple and well-realized; there's a lot to geek out about on the production front. GAH. It's so pretty, I'm so easily transported…I have this visual of something really pleasant and embarrassingly romantic that comes up every time I listen to that track. I don't think I'll ever get tired of hearing it, hence it appears on all the playlists I've made for however long I've been listening to it. The biggest compliment I can give to the song is to tell you that it's made it onto my wedding playlist!”
Larry Gus (DFA)
“In his story ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,’ Jorge Luis Borges talks about a writer (Menard) who wanted to rewrite Cervantes' masterpiece. After different failed methods, he resorts to the actual copying of the original book, page by page, line by line, word by word. Then Borges compared the same excerpt from both books and explained that they are in fact different, mentioning the disparate qualities of each.
“I can still remember the first time I listened to ‘Spirit Fingers,’ which also happened to be my first foray into Kieran Hebdan's music. It was the summer of 2003, and it was a shock, one of those extremely sudden realizations that made me reconsider my whole approach regarding music and music making. My life literally changed after that. 'Rounds' was my gateway into a whole different world. I started reading all of Four Tet's interviews and I installed and began using [the program] Audiomulch myself, trying to recreate this outwardly sound of ‘Spirit Fingers.’
“Most of the songs on 'Rounds' had a very clear melodic hook—my jaw still drops when I listen to ‘My Angel Rocks Back and Forth’—but ‘Spirit Fingers’ somehow implied the melody. And the tiny-tiny element that let Four Tet's genius slip through? That steady, head-nod closed hi-hat, the most simple thing imaginable, but the one that formed the actual backbone of this weird spiral groove, a groove that felt as if all millions of possibilities were laid out in front of me.
“I tried to run sampled bells and acoustic guitars through granulators and vRecorders, I messed with all the parameters and combinations, but of course I failed. I spent month and month trying to break down that distinct sound, and in fact, that was the process that made me learn how to produce music on my computer. Recreating ‘Spirit Fingers’ was my first electronic music learning experience. And I never felt bad about it. Pierre Menard taught me that this is not something I should be ashamed of.”
Leeor Brown (Friends of Friends/Young Adults)
"My Angel Rocks Back and Forth"
“When I was first discovering electronic music, I was a big hip-hop fan. I'd been pushing myself more and more to the beats on the heels of hearing Prefuse 73 and other instrumentalists for the first time. In 2002 I went backpacking in Europe with a friend to celebrate graduating from college and ended up at a festival on the Northern coast of France called Le Route Du Rock. I went chasing acts like Prefuse 73, Manitoba, and others, and happened to catch Four Tet as well; his was a name I'd been hearing about.
“In a room made up of all windows overlooking the ocean in August, I watched Four Tet perform solely on a laptop for about an hour. It was the first time I'd seen something like that, and frankly, I was enamored by the fact that I couldn't figure out what on earth he was doing! When ‘My Angel Rocks Back and Forth’ began, it instantly caught my attention. All of it. I couldn't stop listening to that song for the entire trip—the whole record really, but especially that specific tune, with it's beautifully crafted loop and vibes that I've yet to find since. The merging of hip-hop aesthetics with sounds not typically attributed to the culture really got my attention, and I've been searching for the perfect beat since."
Tom Page of RocketNumberNine (Smalltown Supersound)
"And They All Look Broken Hearted"
“I first heard Four Tet when I was 18 on John Kennedy's show on XFM. I had just started playing drums at the time, and I remember thinking, ‘This is the kind of music that I want to be involved with.’ But I never expected to see the day that we would work together. I've chosen ‘And They All Look Broken Hearted,’ because for me, it encapsulates so much. The music resonates on so many levels, capturing elements of the past and already nodding toward the future, like the work Kieran went on to do with Steve Reid. From the opening bars, it has a warm, spiritual glow that draws me in. Then the scattered free drums come in, followed by the Eastern-sounding melody, and I'm hooked. I liken it to the feeling I get when I look at a mountain: reflective, majestic, beauty, and greatness, all tinged with melancholy. And I love the title of the song too.”