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Album Review: Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid – NYC

October 24th, 2008 · 11 Comments · Alternative, Ambient, Best of 2008, Electronica, Folk/Acoustic, Music, post-rock, Prog, Psychedelia


Exile on ’25th Street’


NYC‘ is Kieran Hebden’s (aka Four Tet) fourth collaboration with veteran jazz drummer Steve Reid and while I won’t pretend that I have heard the other three, the word in the blogosphere is that this is the most equal of their partnerships, with Hebden given much more license to stamp his mark on the record. Certainly fans of Fridge and Four Tet would be foolish to overlook this, a beautiful and intensely atmospheric mini-album. Although I don’t have the cover artwork to hand it is impossible to listen to ‘NYC’ and not picture a seething, rain-lashed megatropolis. It’s a murky, cavernous record easily redolent of old Scorcese films: steam rising from man hole covers, pimps lurking in shadows, dealers dealin’ (to borrow from Bobby Gillespie). The percussive energy and gently building tensions and atmospherics make it less wilfully difficult than such jazz-electronica collaborations might lead you to expect.

It is interesting to note that while Four Tet’s most recent EP ‘Ringer’ sidestepped into more synthetic soundscapes, NYC is very much in line with the textures that made Hebden’s name: scuffed, jazzy rhythms; heavily-reverbed splices of acoustic guitar and piano; and a mulchy organic quality that once inspired the horror pigeonhole ‘folktronica’. But folk this isn’t, this is tranced-out bebop – rollicking, sweaty jazz augmented with synths and echo effects. It’s the kind of fuggy cinematic brew that should entice fans of David Holmes circa Let’s Get Killed, early DJ Shadow and DJ Krush (minus the hip hop esoterica), Amon Tobin, and Four Tet disciples from Pedro to Nostalgia 77.

The murky opener ‘Lyman Place’ is a bit of a red herring, as it’s probably the most abrasive track on the album – a pressure cooker of grinding bass loops and rusted-metal percussion. It’s a mood revisited on the dank, clunking ’25th Street’, which sounds like a network of subterranean pipes rattling and hissing into life, building into a lolloping groove. ‘1st & 1st’ sounds like a gritty 70s cop show theme tune pulled apart and doodled over with freestyle drumming and lots of electronic, dubby ephemera. ‘Arrival’, the album centrepiece, is a meditative, awakening but still somehow urban piece, augmented by shimmering synths, vibrating drones and Reid’s scattershot percussive improvisations. This stunning high is sustained into the bustling ‘Between B & C’ in which Hebden showers sparkling, sped-up synth fragments over a gorgeous piano groove. ‘Departure’ is Four Tet all over: loops of chime-like textures which simmer and subside while Reid grooves sporadically over the top, and occasional beams of pure Bladerunner synth shoot out from the speakers. It’s wonderful, heady, spectral stuff that gets better and better, both throughout its recording time and with each listen – an unexpected delight.

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11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 William Rycroft // Oct 25, 2008 at 10:41 am

    Enticing. I liked the first couple of Four Tet albums but haven’t heard any of his work with Steve Reid. Maybe I should give this a go.

  • 2 James Dalrymple // Oct 25, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Hi William,
    It’s certainly not as challenging as you might believe. Both Jazz and electronica can be quite knotty and impenetratable at times – and while this record has it’s moments like that, it slowly unfolds into a thing of great beauty and atmosphere.

  • 3 William Rycroft // Oct 25, 2008 at 1:11 pm


  • 4 James Dalrymple // Oct 25, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    what’s in your stereo at the moment William?

  • 5 William Rycroft // Oct 27, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    Margot and Nuclear So and So’s
    and High Places
    I’m new to both so just sampling them at the moment. As an electronica boy you may be tempted by High Places. Margot… are a bit like a folky Arcade Fire so far. Still, early days. How about you?

  • 6 James Dalrymple // Oct 28, 2008 at 7:49 am

    I quite like what i’ve heard of High Places so far, but i’ve not committed myself to getting it. Will you be posting a review? I haven’t heard Margot and Nuclear So and So’s, i’ll check it out.

    As for me, just what i’ve written about on the site really. I’m also tempted to get the Department of Eagles album and Fujiya & Miyagi but i’m on holiday next week so I won’t be posting reviews for some time I reckon.

  • 7 William Rycroft // Oct 28, 2008 at 10:13 am

    I’m away too soon so I’ll post some reviews if I can get my act together. Margot’s album comes in two formats after a dispute with their record company; the label sanctioned Not Animal and the bands preferred Animal! on vinyl. I’ve only heard the first so far.

    Have a good holiday.

  • 8 William Rycroft // Oct 28, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Speaking of Department of Eagles I’m sure you’ve seen this already but if you haven’t, then enjoy:

  • 9 James Dalrymple // Oct 28, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    Cheers William – useful link !

  • 10 The devil in the detail // Mar 29, 2009 at 8:44 am

    […] Hebden has since reverted to earthier textures with jazz drummer Steve Reid on their fine ‘NYC‘ collaboration. Boards of Canada – the other, much-imitated custodians of the electronica […]

  • 11 Put through the ringer // Apr 16, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    […] Reid collaborations. If you like this, you certainly should check out 2008 collaboration ‘NYC’. I particularly enjoy listening to these unhurried mood pieces as an antidotal soundtrack to a trip […]

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