Sunday, 4 January 2009

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid- NYC (Domino)

The fourth collaboration between him out of Four Tet, and him out of the old time jazz drummers home arrives, aiming to ingest and spit out the ambiance of New York.

Album opener 'Lyman Place' creates instant menace, like a sped up John Carpenter soundtrack. Assault On Precinct 13 on fast forward. A keyboard rolls on a rapid low down sound, as Steve Reid adds his clattering and rolling jazz drums. Wooden percussive noises slowly filter in, before what sounds like a jet engine powering up is added to mix. The idea of trying to record a city to tape comes out- aeroplanes, the interplay of ethnic mixes, the darker side in the bassy synths.

The juxtaposition of jazz drums and burbles of electronica make an interesting change from the 808s, drum machines and disco handclaps that normally proliferate in this field. It gives an organic feel, one of humanity (something it has in common with Hebden's work with Four Tet).

Recorded in two days, the skill of the duo means that the record does not feel rushed. Song breathe in and out, and feel like cohesive wholes. But the speediness of its creation also means that the album retains as much energy as the city its based on. This is perfectly demonstrated by '1st and 1st', which gives the impression of a sweaty club, hipsters shaking skinny legs to the funked up guitar riff.

'25th Street' brings a more lethargic feel, and features a sample that sounds like someone slurping up cup of fizzy pop. Steve Reid pounds his drums heavy and deep. The night is winding down. An alarm beep closes proceedings, your mind imagining sunbeams penetrating paper thin curtains as the night is brought to an end.

'NYC' works like a narrative without any words, a picture book tour of the Big Apple. 'Arrival' follows '25th Street' but it's gentle guitar work and propelling drums give it the feeling of a train journey, or a walk in winter sunshine. The night time of the first few tracks is replaced by new dawns of crystal synths and overdubs, the momentum regained.

Then the story takes a pastoral departure with 'Between B & C', acoustic guitars echoing around and around, the electronics taking a back seat whilst the drums carry on their clatter. 'Departure', however, sounds glitchy and doesn't fit together. Drums fade it in and out, an echoing tap fails to hold it together. It feels like left over bits from the session glued together to form a closing track.

Or perhaps it's a comment on the disparate nature of the five boroughs of New York, the uneasiness of the song a reflection of a city that doesn't fit together how it should. The former seems more likely, and mires an album that throughout feels like a cohesive piece, one that conjures images of a metropolis through its wide palate of sounds.

That such an imaginative and distinct piece could be conjured in just two days shows the talent that Hebden and Reid possess. That it is almost all glorious, avant garde electronica of high quality is a great bonus.

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