Any new release from Four Tet is bound to get me a little giddy, even if it’s just an EP, and Ringer is no exception. I’m all for Keiran Hebden’s off-kilter jazztronica excursions with Steve Reid, but I have to confess the end result left me slightly underwhelmed. To me, the gift in Hebden’s art is making the most abstract, bizarre sounds into a cohesive whole, and I for one felt that while Tongues and Exchange Sessions were great in a high art, low accessibility kind of way, the man’s knack for making literally anything palatable was slightly neglected. The essential grooviness and structure of the likes of Rounds or the heavy funk of, for example, A Joy were missing.
Not that I have any right to resent this really, but it’s interesting to see how the connection is made between these free jazz workouts and Four Tet’s ever-evolving sound. The resulting EP is actually neither jazz nor Four Tet’s traditional folktronica. It’s really more of a stark techno sound. You see where the jazz element has come in though: the cyclical loop on Ringer will be quite a familiar sound to those who’ve heard Tongues, and there’s some wild bursts of noise throughout the four-track EP. But it’s very restrained, even minimal – like Hebden’s usual work, this is not so much designed as a dancehall anthem, but something far more cerebral than that.
As such, the comparison with the likes of Philip Glass is bound to come up, and that’s a perfectly reasonable observation – Glass’s lengthy arpeggiation is something that was surely on Hebden’s mind when creating these tracks. You could also argue a case for a dubstep inspiration – Burial’s most recent exploits have ended up with that same deeply atmospheric sound.
Ringer is the most like this – it’s the later tracks that show more recognisable Four Tet elements. Yet each one is a new direction, each one has more repetition, more of the quite astonishing modulations over time – even Wing Body Wing, an entirely percussive piece has that fascinating, listenable quality that fans of Rounds will appreciate. Swimmer is maybe the most dramatic thing Hebden has done in a while, with it’s huge shifts and swings.
Unusually for an EP, each track warrants its place on the record and the title track never overshadows anything. It’s well worth listening to, especially if like me you tend to get gushy at the mere thought of probably this country’s greatest living musician.