Four Tet

Late night and early morning can sometimes have a strange way of bleeding together so that you're not really sure where one ends and one begins, a dynamic that causes further confusion to a brain that is supposed to be asleep. This sort of disorientation intermixed with fleeting moments of comfort is hard to convey well on an album.

Rounds was recorded mainly in the wee hours of the night in the tiny home studio of British producer Kieran Hebden (a.k.a. Four Tet), who is also accustomed to working with the post-rock band Fridge. On the album Hebden neatly captures the dual emotions one experiences in the middle of the night -- a mixture of comfort and loneliness -- right from the beginning with slightly too-fast heartbeat that kicks off "Hands" before easing into a gentle sprawl of drum rolls and slowly drawn-out piano keys. The short interlude "First Thing" opens with near-total silence before a ringing phone ends the quiet. "My Angel Rocks Back and Forth" starts with a rocking chair noise and then adapts that rhythm to soft beats and a burbling harp lullaby. "And They All Look Broken Hearted" is similar in spirit, a melancholic tune populated by sparse drum improvisations and plucked strings that would sound more tremendous with an amplifier.

The album's total effect weighs in on the comforting side rather than veering too far into tension. Featuring more attention to detail and overall concept than a preponderance of so-called experimental electronic albums, Rounds helps fill a void in the marketplace for technically proficient chillout music with emotional validity. -- Tamara Palmer