Rounds (Special Anniversary Edition)

Rounds (Special Anniversary Edition)

If Four Tet’s 2001 album Pause marks the first time all the pieces of Kieran Hebden’s sound crystallized into a coherent whole—where harp and acoustic guitar spread, prism-like, over a bristling expanse of breakbeats—Rounds, from two years later, takes a step further into the unknown. The elements are largely the same here: plucked and hammered strings spun into wistful loops and set to a fluttering pulse of brushed snares, jazz samples, and psych-rock tambourine. But stranger sounds materialized, too. The odd lick of sitar, stomp box, or whoopee cushion occasionally surfaces in the mix, throwing careful arrangements thrillingly off balance; these small, provocative details keep the mood of enveloping, almost overwhelming gorgeousness from falling back upon mere prettiness. Looking back upon his catalog, it becomes clear that Rounds is where Hebden began mapping out the intersection of electronic textures and avant-garde techniques that would come to define Four Tet. The opening “Hands,” a crucial antecedent for the fractured boom-bap of Los Angeles’ beat-music scene, builds up to its groove sneakily, deploying Rhodes keys and free-jazz drumming like a smoke screen. Ethereal miniatures like “First Thing” and “Chia” are forays into glitch and microsound; meditative tracks like “And They All Look Broken Hearted” and the 10-minute “Unspoken” lay out Hebden’s fascination with spiritual jazz, ambient drone, and the transcendent potential of extended duration—ideas that would inform his work for the next two decades. Yet for all the album’s searching, in songs like “She Moves She,” “My Angel Rocks Back and Forth,” and “As Serious As Your Life,” Rounds also delivers some of the most memorable and emotive riffs of Hebden’s whole career. More sedate than his club-oriented work of the ’10s, it’s a contemplative touchstone of his inimitable style.

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