Kieran Hebden is a busy, busy man these days. In addition to trying to find time to record a new album with his original band Fridge, he's been going like crazy with his own projects as well. He's played live shows with everyone from Radiohead and Manitoba to the Super Furry Animals, and he's signed on to do production work for the next Beth Orton album (finally, a reason to be interested in her work again). Since the release of his second album Pause, he's been going at a whirlwind pace (including dropping the similarly-titled Paws EP last year), but by the sounds of his newest release Rounds, he's been taking it all in stride.
Another step in the logical progression that has been his work under the name of Four Tet, Rounds doesn't really do anything to really shake free or break new ground, but unlike many third albums, it's amazingly consistent. If anything, it takes the slightly more loose feel of his first disc Dialogue and marries it with his second aforementioned release of Pause, stirring it into something that's just enough different to be interest, yet as comfortable as your favorite jacket. Songs stretch out and breath more often, and there are again a couple tracks that make you want to get up and shake your booty a bit (although nothing that approaches the more aggressive feel of his live show).
Opening with sputtering, chopped-up drums and chimes, "Hands" opens the disc like a pastoral breath of fresh air. It eventually morphs into a ramshackle organ-tinged jazz-inflected track full of shudders and shakes, but starts the set perfectly. "She Moves She," the first single from the album follows up with a punishing beat and more cut-up chimes and a harp melody. About one-third of the way in, a super-grimy roll of feedback strikes and snakes its way through the rest of the track. "My Angel Rocks Back And Forth" again drops things off to lullaby mode, reverbing a drum loop out into the grand canyon while a harp melody dances over the top of it. Just about the time the loop has repeated enough to become maddening, the track falls off a cliff and comes back even more striking than before with a filtered guitar treatment coming in behind everything.
The rest of the album goes in slightly divergent, yet fairly cohesive directions. "Spirit Fingers" is a twitching batch of layered plucked strings while "As Serious As Your Life" drops a super-funky bassline over the top of some hip-shaking beats and multiple layers of chimes and filtered pianos. "Unspoken" runs on a bit long as a piano loop plays out over some live drumming and some great horn improv-sounding bits towards the end. Closing things out just as he started them (beautifully), "Slow Jam" arrives as one of the best tracks that Fridge has never done. Mixing an acending guitar progression with a stuttering drum beat and all kinds of other little bits (including a squeaky toy), it's one of those songs that will literally brighten your day and put a smile on your face. In 10 songs and 45 minutes, Hebden has done it again, and if you've liked any of his previous work, you won't go wrong here.