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Friday, April 04, 2003  
Four Tet

Now where did I put those pens? Click. Click click. Clickety-click. Clickety-click click click-click.

On a bike, cycling along a canal towpath on a hot summer afternoon, arms glistening with perspiration. You see some swans sculling gently past you. Rushes touch your legs as you flow past them, leaning slightly, first one pedal down to a glide, then the other as you seek to avoid brushing nettles. The quiet knowledge tucked away in the back of your head that you have absolutely nothing to do for the rest of the day other than cycle up this canal as far as you want to go. Maybe a butterfly finds itself entwined with your motion for a few yards, maybe you turn a corner and find yourself enveloped in a cloud of butterflies for a fleeting moment, maybe one of them nearly finds itself in your mouth and you gasp at the idea. Sun-dappled tow paths, lazy canals, meandering games of cricket on village greens…

Pause is the sound of Keiron Hebdon relaxing for a while and enjoying the summer, piecing together the rattling of pens, the rustling of paper and the buzzing of insects, constructing music from found-sound building blocks. Much less angular and mathematical in feel than the work of post-rockers Fridge, Hebdon’s day-job, Four Tet is his indulgence, a solo side-project producing the kind of ruralistic, childhood electronica that has seen Boards Of Canada so lauded for the last three years. But while BoC are guilty of often descending into long-winded and tuneless atmospherics, Four Tet is considerably more focused and concise, Pause coming in at 11 tracks and under 45 minutes long (45 minutes being, as anyone with any sense knows, the perfect length for an album).

Hebdon’s fondness for real instruments gives Pause a more authentically organic aura than his more purist electronic contemporaries are capable of achieving, much as they may strive for it. Amongst the clicking stationary samples and glitchy effects are to be found sweet pianos and winsome brass, as well as occasional (gasp) guitars and what sound suspiciously like real drums. ‘Everything Is Alright’ drifts along for two and a half minutes in this tunefully natural way, all skittish beats, swirling keys and the kind of stop-start guitar motifs that Akufen is being so highly praised for cutting up at the moment.

This is an album that seems to effortlessly evoke the kind of lazy summer days that everyone claims only ever happened when they were kids. ‘No More Mosquitoes’ picks up on BoC’s trick of sampling children’s voices, but rather than burying them uncomfortably in the mix and trying to unnerve the listener it is beatific and naively triumphant, the sound of kettles of boiling water being poured on ants nests. ‘You Could Ruin My Day’, on the other hand, builds up an almost hypnotic sense of rhythmic determination during its seven minutes, almost making you want to (gasp) dance.

You can practically see people paddling up canals and dozing in shaded park corners on August afternoons as you listen to this album. Or even perhaps staring wistfully from bedroom windows at passing clouds. Just look at the couple on the sleeve, dressed for a balmy autumn day and smiling for all they’re worth. Magic.

The Argument

Shut up. Shut up and sit down. Get off your fucking hardcore high-horse and shut the fuck up. Take your ethics and your polemic and your do-it-yourself attitude and your straight-edge and shove them right up your fucking ass. You people piss me off with your ennui and your guitars and your anti-consumerism stances and your black-rimmed glasses and your little fucking ironic backpacks. You nasty little intense little fuckers.

This is Fugazi’s best album and I don’t care what you think. You can take Repeater and fuck off with it. I don’t care about your hardcore historiography. I don’t care about Minor Threat or Nation Of Ulysses. I’m not a hardcore fan and I never was nor ever will be. As a genre I think its arrogance, ennui, and piety make for thoroughly distasteful baggage, never mind the actual po-faced, anti-fun, serious-as-cancer music, afraid of hooks, embarrassed by choruses, as enjoyable as a whack in the face from a policeman during an anti-capitalism riot, and even less productive in terms of accomplishing goals. Insular, exclusionary and proud of it, I have no truck with this attitude. Is this descended from punk? No one ever changed the world by cordoning themselves off from it. These hardcore kids who sit around musing over concepts like “record industry self-sufficiency” and “selling out” have forgotten the musical eclecticism and joyous acceptance that made The Clash so great, the wilful experimentalism that PiL and Wire used to make them stand out from the crowd of so-so post-punk groups, the fact that The Sex Pistols were gloriously ugly pop situationists above and beyond being sincerely and pointlessly ‘punk’. Husker Du were a noisy gay pop band, Make-Up much more interested in righteous soul and gospel than conservative white-boy guitar scraping. Gang Of Four were a fucking funk band!

But these hardcore kids today are running scared of anything that doesn’t fit in the milieu of stern, Caucasian post-modern guitar angst, deadly serious and deadly dull, of backpacks and fanzines and all-ages gigs, of ugly, sexless, charmless music made by ugly, sexless and charmless people. Preaching and righteousness and ethics and half-baked politics. Misdirected guilt energy stemming from the greed and inhumanity that is your birthright. Anyone can cheer when George Bush gets pilloried. Listening to Fugazi isn’t going to buy your place in heaven, you dumb little fucks. It’s time to ignore reputation and misheard folklore.

There are handclaps and harmonies on this record, and handclaps + harmonies = pop music. I know how much that scares you, but it really is time that you got used to it and even embraced it. Their last three albums have seen a concerted attempt to broaden their scope musically, and still the talk that surrounds their fans is of ethics and lifestyle and nonsense. And who cares about that, really? “Cashout” is about something or other and I’m sure it’s very liberal and profound, but damn it if I’m not just into this for the sheer visceral hell of those guitars, those guitars that sound like steel being wrought in white-hot forges, those drums that smack you in the solar plexus and wind you and leave you curled up on the floor. There’s some screaming and some nonsense (“one banana one banana one banana more”, possibly) and some frantic build up at the start of “Full Disclosure” and then there’s this massive chorus and it sounds like The Sex Pistols, which is to say that it’s spitting bile like you expect but it’s got a melody underneath too and it picks you up rather than just slamming you back. And those harmonies you’re so scared of are in here as well. And again, those drums.

Those drums. There are two sets of sticks thwacking two sets of skins on Ex-Spectator and on Epic Problem, which is just that, HUGE and AWKWARD and FUCKING BRILLIANT, and with a hush in the centre and then a dynamic swing that sets fire to your chair and sticks it’s fingers in your holes and bowls you down the alley into the pins and CLANG, if it isn’t a strike. And fuck me if their voices aren’t awful when they holler and spit and puke on your shoes, but when they actually sing, which they do on this record, they do it better than they ought to be allowed to do it. And there are acoustic guitars (“Nightshop”) and subtle, hushed arrangements incorporating the aforementioned handclaps (“Life & Limb”), long sad songs with strings (“Strangelight”), and it’s no longer unsophisticated, brutish hardcore that these guys peddle, but rather accomplished, heavy guitar pop. Or something. Shove your genres up your ass as well. The title track to this album is the best thing Fugazi have ever done. I don’t know what it is.

4/04/2003 09:34:00 am


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Nick Southall is Contributing Editor at Stylus Magazine and occasionally writes for various other places on and offline. You can contact him by emailing auspiciousfishNO@SPAMgmail.com

All material © Nick Southall, 2003/2004/2005