In just over the course of a years time now, Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid have collaborated on no less than four releases. First up, Hebden spat out some electronics on a couple tracks on the excellent Spirit Walk with the Steve Reid Ensemble, then the two teamed up for The Exchange Sessions Vol. 1 and The Exchange Sessions Vol. 2, a couple of very similarly-minded albums of improv drum and electronic freakouts that were completely hit or miss. Now, the two are back with their third album of improvisational takes, and it finds them moving in a slightly different direction.
Although I enjoy improvisational music to some extent, I admit to liking a bit more structure in my music, so it should come as no surprise that Tongues sits a bit better with me. There's a natural handoff taking place on the release as well, with Hebden contributing a lot more in the way of loops and processing, rather than largely throwing blasts of filtered electronics over the top as he did on the past two efforts. Of course, in doing so, Reid is a bit more limited in his playing, reigning in his more free-wheeling drum work to fit in with the slightly more structured tracks.
The pieces were still improvised, and it's easy to tell that in places as they're still a bit rough-edged. Album opener "The Sun Never Sets" is a perfect example, as drifting loops fall in and out of sync with the beats from Reid while other skittering loops blast forth at times and jump the track off the rails before it comes back around again. "Brain" is one of the shortest and most intense things they've done together, clocking in at under four minutes in length and blasting with dense sprays of insane electronics while Reid just hammers the crap out of his set as the track pushes higher and higher.
The variety on Tongues also helps it go down a lot more smooth, even when things aren't locking in perfectly. The lovely "Our Time" finds cascading harp melodies floating in around minimal percussion from Reid and taking on a somewhat similar quality to quieter pieces from Four Tet, while the growling "Left Handed, Left Minded" slips off into darker territory with murky, hissy loops playing out alongside Reid's tom-heavy drumming. There are several tracks on the album that could have still used a bit of trimming, but considering the past work from the two, a good portion of the ten tracks and forty-five minutes running length feels downright focused. As mentioned above, it doesn't always work, but there are more than enough explosive moments to pick up the slack.