When two colossal but distinctly different musical minds cross paths, as a fan, sometimes you just have to cross your fingers.

Chris Herring
Courtesy of Domino

Kieran Hebden’s and Steve Reid’s separate career paths share little, but both have a concrete sense of innovative composition. Better known as the creative force behind Four Tet, Hebden has made a career out of breaking boundaries. His past albums, 2003’s Rounds and 2005’s Everything Ecstatic, received rave reviews for twisting familiar instrumentation into unrecognizable songs. Last year, Hebden teamed up with legendary jazz drummer Steve Reid (who has backed the likes of Sun Ra and James Brown) to release two volumes of the critically acclaimed The Exchange Session. On Tongues, these two artists collaborate once again in an attempt to recreate past successes. But this time, the formula produces mixed results.

Tongues opens well enough with “The Sun Never Sets.” At first listen, the piece sounds disorganized and chaotic; it’s more like a defective CD than a song. Yet after a couple more sittings, it grows on you, rewarding listeners who are patient enough to explore the music a bit more deeply.

“Left handed, left minded” is another worthwhile song – more for Reid’s drumming than for Hebden’s electronic additions. Reid’s steady, pulsing rhythm is enough to groove to, but Hebden’s random noises are a constant distraction and the composition’s downfall – a common theme through much of Tongues.

One of the more attractive ideas the pair has arranged is its contemporized “Greensleeves.” In fact, visitors to the Hebden/Reid website can see the two working on the piece, something which proves to be more fascinating than the track itself. You can still recognize the familiar “Greensleeves” melody – omnipresent in so many snow globes and holiday stores – but the focus here is on the novelty of Hebden’s music box. The track is aimless and unfocused – all build up and no release.

“People Be Happy” again showcases Reid’s agility on the drums and Hebden’s equal skill at sounding out of place. The piece is disorganized and the buzzing electronics are obnoxious. “Rhythm Dance” hardly represents its title, being one of the least danceable and rhythmically pleasing tracks on all of Tongues.

Tongues isn’t up to the usual Hebden/Reid standards. On the website Reid proclaims, “Music is like a big house” and explains how the addition of new windows results in different views. Tongues was supposed to be another new proverbial window – unfortunately, only the biggest fan of the duo will want to look into it.

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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