Branded with the dubious "folktronica" tag following 2001's Pause, Four Tet's Kieran Hebden has tried to shake the label from his solo moniker ever since. Work with artists as diverse as Madvillain and Steve Reid inspired fresh material that drew from indie-rock, hip-hop, free jazz and the avant-garde. If it wasn't the samples littering 2003's Rounds, it was the elongated improvisational collaborations with Reid; if not the cerebral DJ Kicks, then the remixes for Bloc Party and Super Furry Animals. His latest offering is the 32-minute Ringer EP, another new direction that explores both minimal and minimalism. Equal parts Villalobos and Terry Riley, Ringer is a fusion of Hebden's well-worn electronic background and current improv interests.
Wagnerian strings open the title-track, a 10-minute floater that briefly releases the tension of arpeggiating synths and strings with crashing cymbals reminiscent of Reid's drumming. In the past, Hebden has marveled listeners with more aggressive sounds, but "Ringer" shows the London beatsmith trying out the credo that Ďless is more.í The angelic "Ribbons" and the droning stasis of "Swimmer" are further exercises in restraint. Both are less immediately dynamic, but the idea is the same: Strip the glitch of earlier efforts and apply a sheen of shifting subtlety instead.
Closer "Wing Body Wing" is the most vibrant of the quartet. Though it still rides on a steady dance beat, the song is introduced through a drum roll and makes liberal use of guitar drones. Itís the least electronic song here, dominated by live instruments and most obviously influenced by Hebdenís time spent touring with Reid. Aside from the drum rolls and injected guitar fuzz of "Wing Body Wing," drama is confined to textural nuances and massified adjustments behind the 4/4 thud of each song.
Given that this is only a half-hour EP, Ringer might appear at first glance to serve as a mere stopgap for future Four Tet releases. Don't be fooled. As much as any active producer, Kieran Hebden has proven a clever musical mind with an ear for fully formed pieces. Ringer is another step forward in one man's ongoing aural self-actualization through refinement of his experiences and influences. Expect whatever full-length that follows to be similar in sound and scope.