Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Four Tet - New Energy Review

For his eighth LP, Kieran Hebden, known to most as Four Tet, imparted a fair deal of irony in the album's title. Whether knowingly or not, New Energy is not new or energetic. Sure, it's a new album, and sure, there's interspersed moments of IDM paced intermittently in-between Four Tet's somber beat-crafting, but for the artist whose defined his style ever since 2001's Pause, New Energy feels more like a tour of the old and relaxed. With his talents and rectitude, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's been seven years since we've received a proper, stereotype-abiding project from Four Tet, that being 2010's There Is Love In You. Since then, we've seen Hebden branch out to Tech House for Beautiful Rewind, toy with structural elasticity on the two, twenty-minute opuses of Morning / Evening, and team up with a litany of DJ's in the UK Bass scene. He even dipped his toes into the meme-sphere this year with two, non-Four Tet attributed singles with names that make Bon Iver's collection on 22, A Million seem like traditional English. And yet, for all that explorative soul-searching, Four Tet returns here; with a project entitled New Energy that utterly defines his past.

For longtime fans of Hebden's, this is the album they've been waiting for. A return to form for a 2000's Electronic lynchpin, something similar artists like Burial, Gold Panda, and Tycho have failed to do in recent years. As the tide shifts, or returns, to dance floor-oriented grooves with the current swarm of UK Bass, the reemergence of Four Tet's Microhouse feels more pertinent than ever. In 2017, there's a place for it. In previous years, while he may have led the wave, a rising tide swelled up around him. There's a chance Hebden's aware of that, given the first official track and single to New Energy is entitled, simply, 'Two Thousand And Seventeen.' What's odd is that the lenitive groove, promptly led by Four Tet's character-defining eastern strings, in this case a persian santur, would've fit more aptly in the mid-to-late 2000's, when his influence on accommodating his familial roots began to grow in Downtempo music. How then, does this style fit in our current era? Well, like with most year-related musical commentaries, it centers around the election of Donald Trump. Essentially, 'Two Thousand And Seventeen' is an ode to the countries affected by Trump's travel ban and xenophobia.

The eclectic taste of a cosmopolitan can be found all over New Energy, an album that embraces the concept of no borders and the pacification of all nations. This theory is nothing more than implied or suggested, as, like with all Four Tet albums, lyrics fail to clutter the atmosphere. However, the track titles more than suffice. Beyond the music, names like 'You Are Loved' and 'Gentle Soul' indicate amnesty and ardor for all walks of life, while 'Memories' and 'Daughter' incorporate ancestral affection to the mix. There's even 'LA Trance' and the unifying closer 'Planet' that implant geography onto New Energy, an album that supports what's seemingly a topographical phenomenon on the cover. These baseless assertions would mean nothing had the music not obliged. Although, knowing Four Tet, beliving adjectives like poise, serene, and tranquil would exist within his latest album would've been a safe bet. There isn't a harsh or discordant noise to be found, as percussion-based beats are only offset by even more nimble interludes of classical origin. There's five of these one-minute transitions, and while they fail to contribute to the hypnotic nature found elsewhere, their unmitigated calmness, like '10 Midi' and 'Tremper,' heighten New Energy's peacefulness overall.

The bread and butter of New Energy resides in Four Tet's mastery of progression and delicacy of sequencing. As we saw on Morning / Evening, Hebden has a firm grasp of placement, i.e. deciding what goes where and when. The only error of this comes early on New Energy, and it's in regards to the aforementioned strings of 'Two Thousand And Seventeen.' Their placed far too high in the mixing, distracting, or masking, from the noticeably simple instrumentation lingering underneath. However, that's about the extent of the misguidance. On 'Scientists,' unilateral drums nearing Burial's Future Garage initialize the methodical track, only for them to be buried under a surge of reversed vocals and horns by the end. 'You Are Loved' builds with gorgeously balanced synthesizers, plodding in rhythmic unison over a dallying drone that recalls Jamie Xx's immaculate work on the second half of 'Gosh.' And then there's 'Daughter.' Not only is it unquestionably New Energy's best track, it's resides easily on the top tier of Four Tet's entire catalogue. Taking a divine, multi-layered vocal sample to its ultimate fruition, 'Daughter' exemplifies Four Tet's impeccable stature as sequencing mastermind. Simplicity in Downtempo music has never sounded so refined.

While those are the highlights, they don't undermine the select constructs held within. By the time 'Planet' rolls around, after the last muted ambience of 'Gentle Soul,' it feels as if the destination of a long-endured journey has been reached. Exempt from the confines of New Energy, 'Planet' as a single failed to entice, simply repeating Four Tet axioms. While still true, with New Energy's genre-spanning appreciation and devotion, ending on 'Planet' as a return to the artist's roots works all too well. A few of the remaining endeavors are largely hit or miss though. Relegated to stylistic fillers when they're on, like the on-the-nose but still delectable 'Lush,' or too dull to recall duds when they're not, like the needless exposé of 'Memories.' Within this space lies 'Two Thousand And Seventeen,' a track that simultaneously acts as fan pleaser and album teaser for the ensuing status of New Energy. It defines the piece, and the era in which it's contained, while also limiting itself to decade-old dictum's handed down by its creator. Context is everything though. And while New Energy, more often than not, reverts to old tactics, the age and surrounding music it's consumed by provide Four Tet's proverbial Microhouse a new, fresh outlet of appreciation.

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