Four Tet routinely provides a sound alternative in an ever-expanding landscape of sonic saturation
If the United Kingdom were to crown a Prime Minister to rule over its cutting-edge dance culture, the prolific producer, whose real name is Kieran Hebden, would undoubtedly be at the forefront of deserving acts. His lifelong body of work is a continuously-furthered effervescent endeavor and yet his humility matches his incredible skill.
Four Tet’s output can only be placed in one genre as of late: therapeutic.
As an artist, Hebden channels a lifetime of influences, with an experimental grandeur echoed by few. Whether it be jazz, techno, psychedelia, or traditional Indian dance music that Hebden pulls in, his repertoire occupies a niche that is both uplifting and desolate, full of both darkness and light. His melodies are woven together as if their respective elements were concocted only to be synthesized by way of his imagination. Asked to articulate his work in an interview, Hebden tells The Guardian, “I want to be able to look back when I’m an old man and have these records tell a story.”
Fortunately, Hebden’s synthesis of both the ephemeral and more permanent is plentiful.
Hebden’s focus has been on the latter of the aforementioned as of late. He began to self-release his albums back in 2012 after a decade on Domino Records. In a rare interview with Rolling Stone in 2015, he expounded upon this decision:
“I had a child and time became very precious to me. I needed to eliminate the things that weren’t efficient: marketing stuff, interviews, strategy, promotion. I didn’t want to worry about that anymore. I just wanted to create the best possible stuff I could for the most hardcore and devoted fans. I could achieve so much on Twitter and social media that all that energy going to getting on the racks at Barnes & Noble was so trivial.”
He’s since delivered on his coyly set aforementioned goal with the release of his ninth studio album, New Energy. Its entire rollout is also by way of his own doing—marketing via socials, limited interviews, etc.
Though Hebden’s already teased out four of the fourteen tracks, New Energy’s serpentine instrumentation is a circuitous avoidance of sonic similarity, meditative and intricately-devised. Its tracks exude a panoptic enigma that is regenerated upon each new listen.
New Energy is a transcendent piece for Four Tet, as if the title hadn’t already served as some pre-indication. Albeit, the tracks themselves do not stray far from the Hebden that ascended the reigns of experimental dance music in the early 2000’s. It is with their implemented instrumentation, the record’s downtempo focus, and limited employment of minimal techno, rather, that the work differs from previous releases. But, that is also where New Energy shines.
On “Planet,” a seven-minute track released prior to the record, Four Tet echoes the cultural sentiments long intertwined with his music.
“Ba Teaches Yoga,” a track off the epochal Beautiful Rewind LP—which Hebden wrote after the passing of his grandmother— comes to mind when listening to the new “Planet.” “Planet” serves as the cultural forefront on New Energy, albeit in a newfound deliverance. It’s important to weigh in the placement of “Planet” as the final track of New Energy as well. One may posit that its use as an epilogue serves as a farewell to the culturally-lamented works and rather a homage to the cultural influence on his work.
This is not to say Hebden’s choice of an instrumental, downtempo focus on New Energy is a dismissal of his previous cultural sonic narrative. Perhaps a cultural-leaning deliverance was just what was exuded at a moment in his life. This has always been the way Four Tet’s created music and grown as an artist, after all, expounding upon what it is that he loves. In doing so, others may relish in a feeling or find an element that they too love.
Near the album’s end is the track “Daughter,” a number that intertwines a vast and various pool of influences Hebden frequently draws upon. “Daughter” broods in its vocals, only to be met with an exquisite, delicate piano track underneath. The number is likely an outreach of Hebden’s desire to create long-lasting, momentous pieces. After all, there’s a child’s voice at the end. It’s likely a track that honors an element in his life that he is deeply fond of— his own kin.
New Energy is indeed Four Tet’s way of expounding on all of the elements of life he so deeply enjoys, created in the hopes that the listener may find new elements or cultures they themselves are fond of, too.
‘New Energy’ is out now via BMG.