Long time fans of Four Tet may be caught off guard by Gong, the first track on his latest LP Beautiful Rewind, as there is no slow build up to gently ease you in like previous album openers Angel Echoes or Hands. The track starts as if its already half way through, a worn-down jungle beat already in full motion, which seems to typify the offhand way in which Kieran Hebden, better know as Four Tet, has approached his seventh album (if you count last year's Pink) under his moniker.
Four Tet has never been easy to pin down to a particular genre. His early work took in some of the post-rock structures of his first band Fridge with hip hop production and beats with samples, primarily made from acoustic instruments. His later work took in a wider scope, bringing in soul, gospel, free-jazz and more recently he has been a mainstay of the house and techno resurgence with a focus on DJing, identifying with different scenes whilst keeping his singular identity. With last years Pink, a collection of his recent 12” releases, his aim was directed straight for the club. Now Beautiful Rewind sees Four Tet building bridges between his 4/4 beats with his more meditative efforts, his past and present and between dance music's history with its future facing perspective.
Having always had a playful touch with his music, here more than ever Four Tet seems to mess with an idea or a melody and then, without hanging around too long, moves on to the next one. This rough and scruffy sound brings to mind a beat tape, a collection of ideas and sketches, rather than experiments that have been seen through to the end. It feels like a counterpart to Daphni's 2012 album Jialong, a side project by Caribou who has shared Four Tet's dancefloor direction over recent years and released an album made up of analogue synthesizer jams and house beats with little of the considered approach he is known for, but instead it was delivered with an uncluttered immediacy and a sense of excitement and spontaneity.
The centrepiece of the album is the pirate radio referencing Kool FM which eschews much of the classic Four Tet sound, and what is there is submerged behind a rough and ready, early-jungle/breakbeat front. Muddy and messy, a short vocal sample shouts out above the beat, amongst a sample of that rewind sound, the track is a homage and celebration of an era, of a time and place in dance music. Buchla asserts its dancefloor commandeering intentions with echoes of the more direct moments of warped techno producer Actress as cut up vocals seem to phase in and out of time with the heavy bass drum beat. The following track Ariel keeps the 4/4 beats going with layers of percussion indulging in polyrhythms and drum rolls around its bass drum stomp as a sample of an MC spitting out a few lines is repeated, pitch-shifted and otherwise played with.
The rhythm of Parallel Jalebi takes on a solid, mechanical quality over a stripped back hip hop beat. The soft, high pitched voices that float above the rhythm add some human element to the mix but – and this is the case for most of the album - Four Tet is happy for the machine led sounds to take up as much space as the human. Unicorn has a melody that slowly forms before you in parts like the unfolding melodies of a Steve Reich composition. It rides above a low bass line that forms the backdrop for this beat-less track and alongside Ba Teaches Yoga recalls the prettiness that defined his first releases. The album isn't perfect though, with Our Navigation feeling frustrating, gaining momentum over its three minutes but never taking off. Four Tet seems to have taken more than a couple of tricks from his collaborator Burial, with female R&B samples cropping up frequently but by the time it gets to the albums closing track Your Body Feels, it feels a little tired and over-relied upon, especially from a producer who has only used vocals samples very sparingly in the past.
It doesn't have the beauty other LPs in Four Tet back catalogue have but that’s not really where it's aiming. Because of this, it may not win him more fans, and those who didn't follow him down his club ready direction won't find as much to like. Still, those that have immersed themselves in Kieran Hebden's own take on current and past electronic trends will continue to enjoy his unique appropriations. The best moments here are the most brazen ones, where he seems to be following impulses, and some of that excitement comes across to the listener. Its an interesting mix of more immediate ideas but its still has plenty of signs of Hebden's meticulous ear for detail. Beautiful Rewind is an impressive stage in the continuing sonic evolution of one the UK's most creative electronic musicians.
Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk