It used to be easier to pretend that an album was its own perfectly self-contained artifact. The great records certainly feel that way. But albums are more permeable than solid, their motivations, executions and inspirations informed by, and often stolen from, their peers and forbearers. It all sounds awfully formal, but it’s not. It’s the very nature of music — of art, even. The Six Degrees features examine the relationships between classic records and five other albums we’ve deemed related in some way. In some cases these connections are obvious, in others they are tenuous. But, most important to you, all of the records are highly, highly recommended.
The late '90s and early '00s were a fecund time for laptop-generated electronic…well, "dance" wasn't really the word for it, but there were beats, and most of the time the music wasn't pop, that was for sure. This music had near-aluminum sheen, its surface was glitch-laden or at least crinkly-sounding, full of clearly unnatural but oddly soothing timbral shifts of individual notes that spoke to their creation on a monitor's waveform. As Four Tet, Kieran Hebden made that methodology his locus, but he also made it sing — made it sound, if not natural, then spontaneous, or at least freewheeling. He also wrote…well, "songs" wasn't really the word for them, but there were beats, and if the music wasn't pop, it was so listenable and replayable that, for a lot of people, it came close enough.
Rounds was Four Tet's third album, but it was his first fully-realized one — the kind of album you'd have expected from Warp in its '90s heyday. The music-box melody of "My Angel Rocks Back and Forth" balances elegantly against a beat full of stylus noise; separately, they might be too cute and too dry, but not here. This 10th-anniversary version adds a 74-minute second disc of a show from Copenhagen shortly after Rounds' release. It doesn't supplant the original, but its extended variations on the album's songs are worth a hear, particularly "Spirit Fingers," whose speedy squelching riffs are taken so far past themselves they practically become ambient music.
The Jazz Collaborator
Plenty of electronic artists collaborate with jazz musicians, but few have put themselves as fully into the music as Kieran Hebden — so much so that his work with the late drummer Steve Reid (an American who spent time and played music in Africa) went far beyond an album or two. Together, they collaborated on five albums; additionally, Hebden was part of the Steve Reid Ensemble, which issued two mid-'90s albums. 2008's Dakar-recorded Daxaar is the second and more groove-oriented; aside from a highly likeable traditional opening kora-and-vocal opening song, this is a straight groove session, with Hebden laying back in the cut, waiting to make his samples talk.
The Dubstep B-side
It's amazing to realize just how different "dubstep" is in 2013 compared to what it meant in 2007, when Burial's second album galvanized a global audience. It sent a meme into the air, and let the mutations flow from there. It's hard to imagine a more perfect distillation of the haunting tremors of the Dubstep Mk. 1 model — these are half-unwrapped songs that grow more haunting for being seemingly full of holes, the grooves both ethereal and up-to-your-nose physical. Burial's taken his time making a real-deal follow-up, in part because he's been collaborating on frisky collaborative singles with Kieran Hebden: 2011's "Ego" and "Mirror" (both also featuring Thom Yorke) and 2012's "Nova."
The Post-IDM B-side
Kieran Hebden stayed unusually busy between 2010's There Is Love in You and 2012's Pink, with a mix for Fabric and a spate of 12-inches either collaborating with others (see Burial above) or, in the case of Daphni, a split (Four Tet's "Pinnacles" was backed by Daphni's "Ye Ye"). Daphni is the straight-up dance alias of Caribou's Dan Snaith, and "Ye Ye" eventually reappeared on Jiaolong, the joyful album he compiled from his 12-inches in 2012. So did the luminous slow-burning "Ahora," which here includes a bonus remix by Margot that adds fizzy-wowing synths and itchy percussion to the basic track, to good effect.
The Detroit Connection
When Kieran Hebden guest-selected London's annual Meltdown concert series, he invited Detroit's Theo Parrish to play. Good move. Parrish is one of the most adept house producers around at stretching out familiar material — old R&B and disco, in particular — till it billows, all the while revealing cracks and fissures in unexpected places, and not (only) because he slows it down. His edits are obsessive, but the feel is loose — for instance, on "Still Love Still Happiness / Whowhohehe," a couple of drum whaps from Al Green's "Love and Happiness" are worked over till they seem exhausted, only to keep turning unexpected corners.
The London Connection
Like Theo Parrish, Zomby was another of Four Tet's guests when he put together London's Meltdown. And like Burial, Zomby is a pseudonymous London producer whose best work takes off from the early British dubstep template while simultaneously exploding it. His first real album remains his best work, though: Where Were U in '92? is such a thorough sonic tribute to the swarming breakbeat hardcore—right before it coalesces fully into jungle and drum & bass — of its title year, it should have come out on an orange cassette, just like the vintage DJ tapes from which it takes its sonic cues. Yet it's also very much of its own time: 2008 is where clubland's obsession with old-school house and techno and bass music began to take hold.