The tapping of a computer keyboard. A stumbling, uncomfortable acoustic guitar pattern. A loose, live breakbeat of neck-snapping proportions. Soft, calming loops of some hard-to-place gamelan-type instrument. These are the elements that introduce and regularly reoccur in fresh disguises throughout ‘Pause’; the second album from sample-wielding Londoner Kieran Hebden, under the guise of imperious alternate identity Four Tet. The album has recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of its release, and is yet to show signs of ageing.
‘Pause’ exposed a new world of sonic creativity that was suddenly open to all bedroom producers, and while Hebden’s debut, ‘Dialogue’, had tentatively explored these ideas, it was on the typically “tricky” follow-up that his stylistic concept was fully realised. Critics briefly flirted with labels such as ‘folktronica’ or ‘organic electronica’, finding it difficult to tie down such a unique yet perfectly natural sounding compositional technique. A ball park description would be that it was loosely based in the world of beat-led trip-hop introduced by a group of smoked-out Bristolians ten years prior (Massive Attack’s own debut, ‘Blue Lines’, was
itself 20 years old this April), one that arguably peaked with DJ Shadow’s ‘Endtroducing…’
However, Hebden’s approach to ‘Pause’ was far looser and less rigidly structured, with the eastern-tinged instrumentation of ‘Dialogue’ returning alongside guitars, xylophones, harps and keys sliding and glitching themselves into untethered loops, forever mutating, all held together by breakbeats that have been chopped up and sewn back together at pleasingly jaunty angles.
While albums by Portishead, Tricky, and Sneaker Pimps suffered the fate of many groundbreaking collections of “mood music”; ending up as background wallpaper to many a hard-hitting TV drama or fashionable dinner party, ‘Pause’s levels of simple complexity removed the commercial appeal held by its advert-pillaged contemporaries, allowing it to slip under the wider radar and into the annals of treasured underground
Whether it’s the spacious opener ‘Glue of the World’, the jangling bells of the wonderfully buoyant ‘Twenty Three’ or the haunting ‘Untangle’ with its cascades of harps and four-to-the-floor majesty, Pause flows fluently from start to finish, simultaneously allowing the strength of its individual tracks to shine alone. ‘You Could Ruin My Day’, with its furious harpsichord-type loops and driving beats sits comfortably with the lingering acoustic guitar riff and rolling breakbeat that permeate the fantastic ‘Everything is Alright’, while the small interludes such as ‘Harmony One’ and ‘Tangle’ tie the whole thing together with snatches of twisted guitars and crashing waves.
Hebden’s influences were clearly varied yet prescient throughout the making of ‘Pause’, and, in an interview with Adam Park from Boomkat back in 2007, he revealed nine tracks that have had a profound effect on him throughout his life. While not all are obvious in his music, there are clues within these songs to the way in which Hebden’s style was developed. Indeed, put a sawtooth synth bassline underneath ‘No More Mosquitoes’, complete with a double-time jungle breakbeat at the halfway point, and you might be put in mind of DJ Zinc’s seminal ‘Super Sharp Shooter’ – number three on his list. Number seven, folk artist Mark Fry’s ‘Dreaming With Alice’ LP, exposes the source of Hebden’s interest in combining psychedelic folk sounds with break beats and other forms of electronica, while the minimal techno of ‘Untangle’ even predates number eight, Isolee’s ‘Beau Mot Plage’.
After Trevor Jackson’s Output Recordings had given Hebden his start as Four Tet – and indeed the freedom to release debut single ‘Thirtysixtwentyfive’, a reference to the track’s colossal length – ‘Pause’ went on to find a natural home at successful independent label Domino Records, where Hebden remains to this day. Taking Four Tet to Domino was a shrewd move, as it allowed the then 21-year old producer to separate himself from beat-making contemporaries at Ninja Tune or Tru Thoughts – artists such as Bonobo, Amon Tobin and Zero db – and not disappear into this albeit impressive group.
A succession of markedly unique and diverse album’s followed, each a progression, each unmistakably Four Tet. But Pause is, if not the peak, then a distinct highpoint in a career still developing; still changing; still challenging. Its influence can be heard on countless albums across several genres (Radiohead’s King of Limbs being a recent prime example), yet its impact on the musical map at the time of release was perhaps not as great as it deserved to be. It would be a travesty for ‘Pause’ to slip from the collective memory, but unfortunately a real possibility. So, for that reason, we should celebrate its decennial anniversary and toast to
another 10 years to come from Four Tet.