Four Tet's ROUNDS is that rare electronica album that seems to push all the right buttons at once. The side project of Fridge's Kieran Hebden, Four Tet released two records prior to 2003's ROUNDS, but this acclaimed outing surpasses even those excellent efforts. Incorporating mid-tempo and down-tempo beats, ambient atmospherics, dub elements, and the noticeable presence of acoustic instrumentation, ROUNDS is expertly balanced in style and substance.
Part of Hebden's secret is his subtlety--the sonic experimentation is counterbalanced by lush, languorous melodicism, so that the tension and edge driving his sound never become too over-the-top. Even the frantically paced "Spirit Fingers" has a dreamy feel. "She Moves She" takes a hip-hop beat as its base, but covers it with soft bells and guitar lines that are later made jagged by a rhythmic sample. This remarkably dynamic aesthetic is par for the course--the lovely "Hands" features tumbling drums and found sounds, while the structure of "Unspoken" is both spare and expansive. ROUNDS displays a musician's concern with organic sounds and textures, yet is firmly located within the electronic aesthetic, and the mixture makes for a fascinating experience.
Rolling Stone (5/15/03, p.134) - 3 stars out of 5 - "...Intersperses delicate, heart-rending guitar melodies with glitchy percussive skips and stutters..."
Spin (08/03, p.118) - "...Four Tet has rescued down-tempo electronica from solemn techies and wine-bar burnouts....a more varied trip [than last year's PAUSE], with a darker vibe..." - Grade: A-
Q (01/01/04, p.76) - Ranked #37 in Q's "The 50 Best Albums of 2003" - "Some of the finest instrumental music in years."
Uncut (01/04, pp.84-7) - Ranked #8 in Uncut's "Albums Of The Year 2003"
Uncut (6/03, p.102) - 5 stars out of 5 - "...Hebden crams every minute with delicate pretty tunes that illuminate his productive ingenuity....It's the freshest, most exciting and far-reaching left-field album in years..."
Magnet (6-7/03, p.94) - "...[Achieves] incredible tension and grace....Hebden has found the secret meeting place for man and machine..."
The Wire (01/04, p.43) - Included in Wire's "50 Records Of The Year "
The Wire (5/03, p.60) - "...Each track inhabits an exclusive space of its own amid fragments of ethnic folk percussion and crackling beats..."
Pitchfork (Website) - "[W]hile 'She Moves She' retains the crisp snare and hi-hat work that underpinned millennial R&B productions, it's the twinkling glockenspiel line that gives the track its emotional heft."