For all the progress they've made toward introducing "out" sounds to "in" audiences, what I like most about the bands typically clumped into the "post-rock" scene (the phrase doesn't really bother me all that much, but I'll go ahead and use the quotation marks so you don't think I'm lame) is how they intertwine elements from two opposing aesthetics: digital vs. analog, synthetic vs. organic, ProTools vs. a four-track, however you wanna delineate it.
Few in the scene capitalize as deftly or as artfully on that composite as twentysomething Englishman Kieran Hebden, who plays as one-third of the band Fridge and makes records of his own under the handle Four Tet. Happiness, the new Fridge album (the band's third full-length, but the first to be released domestically), reminds me of the first two Tortoise records in its folksy, start-from-scratch warmth. As that Chicago troupe did on its self-titled debut, Hebden and his bandmates simply utilize electronic instruments right alongside their acoustic ones: "Drum Machines and Glockenspiels," like most of the nine songs here, just sort of meanders around the rehearsal space, picking up steam and letting it off, folding in voices and whatever else is lying around; "Sample and Clicks" does the same and ends up sounding like leftover music from Blade Runner. "Cut Up Piano and Xylophone" (you're getting the picture, right?) is more direct, like what that Steve Reich remix disc from 1999 should've sounded like: pretty, flowering arpeggios over a bubbling ambient wash of reverb and high-end plinks. If that rings a little New Age to you, well, you're not that far off; but trust in Hebden's ability to choose his sonic watercolors with a careful ear.
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Or just skip over Fridge and dig into Hebden's work as Four Tet--any notions of Wyndham Hill softness should be repudiated by the blunted breakbeat that groans to life 30 seconds into Pause, his second album of exquisitely detailed folktronica. (That phrase actually does bother me quite a bit, but I have to admit it suggests the manner in which Hebden matches filtered and processed acoustic guitars and various other stringed instruments with a DJ's crate of heavy-ass beats.) Like his obvious influence DJ Shadow, Hebden is a master at establishing mood with pure sonics, and on Pause he runs the gamut from innocent melancholy ("Parks" floats a field recording of kids at play over tinkling electric piano) to creeping dread (the sterile "Untangle" allows its forward momentum to threaten). But he's at his best when he's just conjuring the musical equivalent of an old, yellowed photograph--or at least the memory of one, reality viewed from beyond its own borders.