Four Tet, 'Rounds' (Domino) / Prefuse 73, 'One Word Extinguisher' (Warp)

Critical Mass
Label: Domino

by Will Hermes

Since Timbaland and the Neptunes started alchemizing freaky beats into platinum rap, broke-ass avant-indie hip-hop producers have surely been doubting their career paths. So show 'em some love--not all rap fans are MC freaks, after all, and there's plenty of fertile creative turf left for instrumental hip-hop to plow.

Just ask Kieran Hebden, an occasional indie-rock guitarist whose solo project Four Tet has rescued down-tempo electronica from solemn techies and wine-bar burnouts. Last year'sPause was as winsome and pastoral as music composed on a laptop can be; Rounds is a more varied trip, with a darker vibe suggesting the influence of Hebden's labelmate Dan Snaith of Manitoba. It peaks with the funky harpsichord of "As Serious as Your Life," a song so tuneful you wish someone would pen verses for it. And since Hebden is currently producing Beth Orton's new LP (his first full-length collaboration with a singer), that just may happen.

Scott Herren made his mark as Prefuse 73 with 2001's Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives, razor-editing rappers' sampled voices into verbal hailstorms. One Word gets the blade out again on "The End of Biters-International," a1:17 dirty bomb of phonemic shrapnel. But with a few exceptions (among them a sharp Mr. Lif cameo), the record mostly sidelines vocals to put smoother jazz-funk textures through the wood chipper. It's a busy, dazzling record, though more detours--like "Storm Returns," a dreamy guitar-and-beats collage--would help aerate things. If hip-hop is ideally about integrating all musical shades under a groove, why target-market?





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