Electronic music is a funny medium. Purists balk at it, claiming there’s no talent required when composing with a bank of synths, computers, and sequencers, that it’s basically as easy as pressing a button to have an instant song. Champions of the genre claim that it’s more or less one of the last explorable frontiers of music, with limitless boundaries and plenty of room left for pure imagination to work as an active ingredient in the compositional process.
Having gone through my college years at a time when techno was really taking off and all sorts of subgenres were splitting away from the big beats of the ‘90s dance floor, I would have to be one of the people who fell into the latter category. Having worked in the electronic music world myself, I can safely say that a good knowledge of rhythm and melody can take one farther than perhaps the person who believes all you have to do is a push a button to get your song. These people often become frustrated when they realize that isn’t the case, and proceed to put down electronic music even further, often claiming that it’s just too frustrating to work with, and who would want to waste their time.
Well, one particular man who has been “wasting” some great time in an effort to make some strikingly beautiful music that not only mixes up some of the more esoteric and ambient side of electronica, but also includes some of your favorite daily “organic” instruments is Kieran Hebdan and his current project Four Tet. Hebdan has appeared in such groups as Badly Drawn Boy and the alt-favorites Fridge. As Four Tet, he has released two works, the debut Dialogue which featured a wilder, free-form jazz foundation, and this latest Pause which takes off in the opposite direction by featuring calmer, more atmospheric-oriented sounds.
You could say that the album is a new exercise in music concrete, and in a way it might be as some of the beats are created from found sounds like fingers tapping on keyboards which are then looped to create the spinal rhythmic beats. But more often than not, the music contained here is something that strikes a deeper chord for the listener, not a vehicle to drive most away. Pause it not something you put on to dance to or do the housework by. It’s better for putting in your car and cruising around through the twilight hours of morning, or just sitting and contemplating the universe to.
Indeed, the song titles suggest themes that may assist your listening experience. “Parks”, “Leila came round and we watched a video”, “No more mosquitoes”, and “Hilarious movie of the ‘90s” are just a few of the tracks you’ll encounter here. The opening “Glue of the world” contains those keyboard taps, as a jazzy beat drops in and various stringed instruments bend and stretch to create the hypnotic melodies. “Twenty three” opens with what sounds like either waves crashing or someone revving up a motor down an alley somewhere. The sound then cuts to the tinkling of wind chime-like percussive sounds, looped vocal beats, electric piano, and a steady acid-jazz drum sample. Things turn into a more trip-hop style as a horn or two enters the mix. It’s what Air would be like if they dropped some of their ‘70s pretense and stopped worrying about being “groovy”.
Some tracks here mainly work as links to the longer compositions. Both “Harmony one” and “Leila” are under two minutes and feature sleepy snatches of music that lead straight into larger, atmospheric works like “Parks” and “Untangle”, the latter of which features some lovely pulsing bass notes as quick blips of keyboard chords press in and out of the mix. A harp then takes hold of the tune as ticking clocks become part of the mix and the harp and keyboard vie for your attention. The structure sounds random, but it’s quite masterful and fascinatingly tranquil. Pound for pound, the songs of Pause are for more interesting and multi-layered than most of your general ambient music available on the shelves today/
But Pause isn’t just about ambience. “No more mosquitoes” with its heavier beats, squiggly noises and child chant push the album into stranger, harder territories while “You could ruin my day” rests snugly in a web of harpsichord patterns and spare beats that kick in a solid groove. The whole point of this album isn’t that it’s music to put on to fall asleep to at night. It’s music that conjures up all sorts of thoughts, mental images, and emotions. And it’s because of that that Pause is one of the best “electronic”-based albums I’ve heard in a long time. It’s rare that the genre bothers to allow itself to become so personal to the listener. But this time it has, and since it has, I can’t help but give this album my highest rating. It’s certainly a mesmerizing work. Something for the purists and champions alike.