The promotional bluster accompanying Tongues, the third collaborative record between Four Tet architect Kieran Hebden and former Miles Davis/Chaka Khan/James Brown drummer Steve Reid, makes a point of emphasising a move from the expansive, free flowing improvisation of last year’s Exchange Session releases toward a more compact structure. It’s a fair point to labour—Tongues is a solidified ten track album. There are moments of extended abstraction, but a conventional, logical melody or beat is always just near enough to prevent disintegration into free-form chaos.
“The Sun Never Sets” starts this journey commercially and sublimely. Tuneful, messy nods to Tortoise and Caribou are encased around a propulsive beat, and the track would be an ideal fit for David Holmes’ next Soderbergh soundtrack. “Brain” climaxes like latter day Chemical Brothers, running though fields of Pause after an audience with Christopher Lee in full Wicker Man mode. After “Our Time” brings languid folk tryst tonic, “People Be Happy” concentrates on echoing repetition and Marvin the Martian worthy tech belch sounds.
Also noteworthy is a version of “Greensleeves” which is positively funereal and spectral, and the accompanying “Rhythm Dance” inhabits a vortex where the windscreen wiper is king. “Mirrors” is refreshing, Phillip Glass on Saturday morning fare. Meanwhile, “The Squid” embraces convention, evoking Death in Vegas and limo music for David Icke’s nightmares. “Superhero’s” has Yellow Magic Orchestra worthy carnival soul. “Left Handed, Left Minded” closes with White Out cool.
One could categorise this release as electronica, jazz or experimental, or all three if he really wanted to. My overwhelming impression is that it’s a really good album to lift weights to; as long as the listener doesn’t try and dance with the stutters (my right leg has taken note). Label it as you like, Tongues is diverting and palatable, and that’s the crucial factor.
Tortoise – Standards
Four Tet – Pause
Steve Reich – Reich: remixed