- If you've seen Kieran Hebden live as Four Tet then you might expect the improvised 'Tongues' to be a mixture of rough, inventive beats and electro glitches. You'd be wrong. Tongues, and indeed, the Exchange Sessions project as a whole (recorded live sessions between Hebden and veteran drummer Steve Reid) is a totally different bea(s)t. Likewise, if you expect that Reid's experience with the likes of Miles Davis and Sun Ra would inspire ground-breaking and off kilter drumming, you'd be wrong again. With Tongues you hear snatches of what they're capable of (together) but unfortunately, and I do stress unfortunately, for the most part it’s a diluted version of both.
Take 'Rhythm Dance', built around a looped that resembles one of those effects key rings kids had in school, which Reid drags forward by breaking his crescendo of pattering into a beat. Hebden responds with a 4/4 pulse, but then frustratingly stalls beyond a light sprinkle of Tron-like computer effects and blips. The opener 'The Sun Never Sets' is also symptomatic. It concludes with out-of-control tape reels and a volcano of noises but you can't help but think it's because Hebden doesn't know what else to do.
The impression one is left with is that the pair don't 'get' each other enough to produce something really startling. Given this is only their third CD together; this should perhaps come as no surprise, although the potential is obviously there. You hear it on tracks like 'Greensleeves', which sounds like a very wonky and quite sinister child's toy being wound up and played. And 'Brain', which fuses a delightful tune which wouldn't be out of place on Four Tet's 'Pause' with drumming that senses the shifts by switching from a solid beat to more free expression. How instructive that the best 'Tongues' tracks are remixes, where the other artists have time to sit back, digest the music before coming up with impressive alternate versions. It also helps the two of the best men for the job are involved – Audion and James Holden. Perhaps somebody should lock them in a room together and hit the record button.
1 The Sun Never Sets
3 Our Time
4 People Be Happy
6 Rhythm Dance
8 The Squid
10 Left Handed, Left Minded