...It’s actually quite exciting to see two musicians willing to travel outside their...
Louis Pattison 2007
Tongues captures the third studio meeting between veteran percussionist Steve Reid and Kieran Hebden - the questing London laptop artist perhaps better known by his recording alias, Four Tet. At first glance, it’s a pretty unconventional pairing for Reid, who’s primarily an ensemble player – he made his recording debut hitting the skins on Martha and the Vandella’s Motown classic ‘'Dancing In The Streets'’, and he’s since played with figures including Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, and Sun Ra. But while Hebden is just one man, his ambitions have always extended further. Inspired by Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane, Four Tet’s 2005 album Everything Ecstatic was a startlingly organic-sounding simulation of psychedelia and free jazz. ‘Tongues’, then, merely takes this spirit of fusion one step further.
While a more focused, practised set than the two improvised '‘Exchange Sessions'’ discs that preceded it, Tongues remains a stubbornly outer-limits listen, more grounded in the improvisatory spirit of jazz than any rock or electronica idiom.
Reid’s percussion sometimes settles into 4/4 rhythms, but just as often he’s spinning off on tangents, pattering off across the kit or twitching chimes and bells. Hebden, meanwhile, has granted himself a particularly broad brief, triggering proggy crests of synthesiser, noisy loops soaked in delay, picking up a guitar for some effects-laden texturing, or on ‘'Greensleeves'’ – yes, it’s the melody of the auld English folk song – playing a traditional music box through an echo effect.
While experimental in scope, however, it’s seldom grating. ‘'Superheros'’ whizzes along at a rate of knots, Reid holding down a solid rhythm as Hebden drip-drops bouncy synth lines and dovetailing electronic screeches like rain on a speeding chassis, while ‘'The Sun Never Sets'’ groans into life with gleaming, optimistic melodies reminiscent of 70s Krautrock bands like Cluster or Harmonia.
‘Tongues’ is a bit hectic to be considered straight chill-out music, and perhaps not fiery enough to charm the dedicated avant fan. But the tag ‘experimental’ is all too often used as a get-out clause to excuse tuneless, ideas-free music, it’s actually quite exciting to see two musicians willing to travel outside their comfort zone.