In an electronic-music world that begs to be schematized, Four Tet's Kieran Hebden has become a methodical master of fusion exercises that shouldn't work half as well as they do. As much as the idea of "fusion" is held out as a virtue, it's more often a font for miscalculationforced couplings of sounds and styles that circle around each other without ever meeting, on reconstituted terms, in the middle. That hasn't been the case with Four Tet, whose past two albums have wandered through hip-hop, cosmic jazz, pastoral folk, and antic drum-and-bass without sounding merely touristy.
It's clear that Hebden, an Englishman with a multidisciplinary résumé fronting the post-rock band Fridge and remixing the likes of Madvillain and Radiohead, understands the sounds he gamely dabbles in. Everything Ecstatic fans through too many styles to court the cataloguing impulse, and they're all too colored by context to be observed on their own anyway. When jazz drums or space-rock guitar wander into a track, as they do in "A Joy," they don't signify jazz or space-rock so much as assume their place in a swirl that Four Tet has made its own. That swirl has grown a lot heavier and thornier than in the past; Everything Ecstatic answers to momentum more than the wondrous lull of Pause and Rounds. Tracks like "Smile Around The Face" and "Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions" roll through tripped-up funk breaks and blippy electronic cascades that stare at the horizon more than the sky.
Four Tet's bricolage remains as moody as it is giddy, articulating a varied range of emotions with tracks built from isolated instrumental bits. But Everything Ecstatic serves its title by upping the energy level and leveling off when the sonic weather grows too dense to allow for a subtle breeze. It's the sound of a music fiend obsessively pawing at his record collection and troubling over ways to pay it proper tribute.