on’t let the DJ in the title of this series fool you; Kieran Hebden’s not really a DJ and I don’t think he’s ever claimed to be. His work as Four Tet is a satisfying exhalation of studio smoke and mirrors, suitable for various modes of club play, and I’m sure his record collection probably dominates whatever room he keeps it in. But when it comes to the physical act of mixing records or making a mix CD that replicates that activity, Hebden seems like a hyperactive kid on a shopping spree: all smiles, careening down the aisles, picking off eight shelves at once, throwing it all in the cart. His DJ Kicks contribution is more like a mixtape than anything else, and I imagine the enjoyment most people will get from it lies in the thrill of discovering new sounds and not necessarily their arrangement—a hallowed mixtape tradition, for sure. His LateNightTales was much the same, an exuberant genre joyride that introduced me to more than a couple acts I now cherish.
His second effort gets off to a promising start, with the wavering tape haze of composer David Behrman’s “Leapday Night” blending nicely into the hyperactive digital funk of Syclops’ “Mom, The Video Broke.” Hebden then plays the Clever Juxtaposition of Titles game, a classic mixtape move, following Syclops with Curtis Mayfield’s “If I Were Only a Child Again.” After a puzzling minute-and-a-half jazz interlude, two more off-kilter electrified funk bits induce a spate of head-nodding on par with the intense Gameboy sessions of my salad days.
Hebden’s got a broad knowledge base and eclectic tastes, but the real trick is to pick a complementary set of tracks and wrangle them into cohesion; here he’s on about three-quarters of the time. When tracks are allowed to build up momentum, it’s enough to seduce one into attempting unholy acts with the nearest laptop. The first six tracks work beautifully, as does the later run of Julian Priester Pepe Mtoto’s “Love, Love,” a Four Tet original called “Pockets,” and Model 500’s “Psychosomatic” (which, crucially, begins without any rhythm, letting the electronic gauze ease the transition from sampled real drums to programmed machine ones).
Hebden sometimes loses the fragile thread keeping the mix together. When So Solid Crew, Akufen, Animal Collective, and a Madvillain remix appear in succession, each getting between one and two minutes apiece, the result is as rushed and awkward as it looks on paper. Likewise, Cabaret Voltaire only get a thirty-six-second clip, despite their perfect fit in the rhythmic electro-buzz that makes up most of this collection. The concluding tracks are puzzling exceptions: Group Home’s lackluster rhymes and clichéd piano samples overstay their welcome after five full minutes, and while the ten-minute Autechre piece that closes out the mix is a classic, its isolated placement hurts and its length is inexplicable given the swiftness with which Hebden cuts tracks short earlier on.
Perhaps the most crucial element of a good mix is timing, and it’s odd that the intuition that carries Four Tet albums is lacking here. That said, in a DJ climate that’s fairly saturated with one-note mixes whose highlights are often the same shared track (that Carl Craig remix is great, now put it away already!), Hebden certainly deserves credit for championing obscurities and attempting to make otherwise unrelated genres speak to each other. And if he can turn people on to David Behrman, Gong, and Autechre in the space of an hour—this is the true purpose of a mixtape, remember—well then, all awkward transitions can be forgiven.
Reviewed by: Ethan White
Reviewed on: 2006-07-12