Monday, 11 November 2013

Four Tet - Beautiful Rewind

There are few prominent artists as Kieran Hebden under the Four Tet banner in the World today. Not because there’s a lack of long-lasting talent or predominantly engaging ideas to tackle. More the case that over a decade since the former Fridge percussionist began mixing synthetic drums with physical equivalents, Four Tet has grown and matured into more than just an electronic side-project - standing now as one of the genre’s most captivating yet aquizicly varied of producers over a discography that has covered the likes of downtempo, house and now, on Hebden's sixth full-length as Four Tet, the shadowier, confined grooves of future garage and bass in 2013's Beautiful Rewind. And while Hebden has teased and toyed with his amassed followers over the three years since 2010's gorgeous There Is Love In You dropped - both in a compilation of 12" material in Pink as well as offering to the plate a near-40-minute offering to chew through in 0181 - most I'm sure have still been left hungry for what would stand as the true, definite next step for the UK producer whom up until this point, seemed to deject the convention of primarily focusing on groove and nothing more. 

Beautiful Rewind thankfully, at the very least, aims to explores such potential, and is Four Tet's very own invitation to the larger parties - the parties that aren't exclusively enclosed to a two-by-two wall in an apartment or tucked snuggly amid home furnishings and personal delights. Instead, we find ourselves removed from what was this previous nostalgia-like innocence and joy that's come to help advance and even benefit Hebden's appeal over the course of the past decade. But that's not to say that Hebden's looping, layered implementation of instrumentation and beats aren't as direct or as scrutinisingly less precise on a record that tackles the two-way dialogue of performance and spectator that late-night electronica often comes down to. If anything, the appliance is a lot more immediate and instantanous this time round. Gong's straight-to-the-point descent into tribal grooves stands as a direct conflict to [previous LP opener] Angel Echoes and its delicate, almost soothing reassurance. But this drastic shift in both presence and delivery brings with it no less of an exciting mix of four-to-the-floor rhythms that repeat throughout, even if what might be considered the lesser-intriguing necessity of snipped female vocals dawdle in part-vacant presence with less a meaning than simply abiding to current garage music's habbits in vocal use. 

Parallel Jalebi follows suit by cutting the notation even more to skips of sixteenth notes while vocals preside closer and interplay deeper into Hebden's bass-focused textures and dynamics between beats. But most pressing of all, is the pace and the almost mechanical nature to the way the drumbeats not so much physically manifest as, but seem to deliver themselves in a sonic and positional stance. The sounds feel autonomous, but not in a way that's degrading to the overmounting presence of the track. Our Navigation tries to expand upon this with an animate personality via the inclusion of synths pressing from out the robust mechanic of the track's structure and into the trail of smoky, industrial air around it. But even with this, the percussion and searing autonomy of its delivery deliver Four Tet's sound, in conclusion, as depicting more a future time in which we find itself walking the fine line between utopian and dystopian absolution. 

It's an interesting alternative, even if it's one Hebden desperately ravishes to meet as opposed to delicately take his time over. But while the shorter, higher-paced deliveries do at times appear unjustly sped up and forced through - as opposed to naturally being out of some emotion or state of mind Hebden never really explores on opening proceedings - the benefit to this in counteraction, is the way Four Tet implements these more contemporary ideas and genres, to invoke the sense of a future tense and distant time without seeming to take away from the present effect of his percussion and beat patterns. Though while Ba Teaches Yoga makes an understandable leap back to more introspective and evocative affairs with its similarly bobbing tones and whirling synthsizers that sound like they're taken straight from a control panel or user interface, Four Tet's once charismatic building of layers amid the repetition, unfortunately doesn't have as much the same connection as, again, the naive innocence or warm intimacy past records did well at surfacing. 

With that said, Hebden unfortunately feels like he's shooting blind in a field that's completely foreign to his original ideals. Instrumentally, as Kool FM captures well, Four Tet still manages to asatain the importance of groove in emphasising particular drumbeat patterns and effects - later boosting this with vocal shunts that are direct, but compellingly suited to the theme and mood of the arrangements. But while this may be appealing on a structural stand-point, there's a lack of equal focus on narrative or personal affection that many will have found engaging in previous Four Tet material. Again, while an interest in exploring what dance-floor or nightclub soundtracks may hold in a 2043 setting rather than a 2013 one is present, it seems to come at a cost to his use of personal atmosphere and trajectory when the individual components combine at their most crucial moments. In some cases, the vocals feel under-valued; weighed down by elements such as rhythm and tempo possessing more of Hebden's efforts. The better balance - and proof that co-existence of material and effect can work - pop up on tracks like Buchla which begin low-key and enclosed but later offer room for the asymmetrical vocals to interplay with the beats' presence, and more-so the appliance of electronic sound rising up, but not in anyway intimidating or dangerously close to interruption. 

If there's one thing Hebden categorically succeeds in achieving - more-so than simply following up with more of the same - it's the fleshing-out of groove and its appliance to content that reaches out to the listener's emotional response. Aerial is the best proof of Four Tet's antics, especially in its second half where gravelly synths and accompanying drumbeats lock horns with vocals that are chopped and muddled - but more-so, carry a clear, almost-brute strength that slowly gains to be a harder-hitting and anxious bottling of mood. The more the track progresses, the more the listener begins to feel a part of the performance being invoked; better/worse, almost trapped by it, and at its most eventful, the arena Four Tet visages feels like it's one outcry away from devolving into gruelling chaos. By contrast, Unicorn's blissfully preminiscing synths and mellow key chimes invoke the opposite effect; a soothing, calming breather that's not just inviting, but presents its translucent approach as voluntary rather than compulsive, as if reassuring its listener there's nothing to fear in its own presence this time. So while Your Body Feels initially plays well into the album's closing back-and-forth procedure between severed mentalities, Four Tet still manages to surmize an underlining stroke of atmosphere and compact focus with the instruments he works with. Though in the end, while the clear importance of pounding bass rising in parts never delivers a crucial blow that feels evermore expected,the surrounding space is a consolation to a record lesser in its environmental placement.

Indeed, while Beautiful Rewind's presence of spectral, paraphrasial colour in it cover may allue to an accompanying (if not overwhelming) presence of emotion or other non-physical benefits, the truth is that Four Tet's sixth effort comes across more a blueprint on structure and positioning with which Hebden has clearly, unreservedly, followed to suit. The visages and setpieces laid out, while dynamic and brimming with the familiar kind of universal energy that dancefloors and DJ sets usually intoxicate the environment with, at times fall short on expanding warmth and empathy to its enclosure of audience. The look into future electronic dance music as a set-piece is a manifesto Hebden interestingly brings to the table, and succeeds in convincing when the raw, mechanics of groove and rhythm preside above akk. But rather than expanding that monochrome visage as the likes of Machinedrum have demonstrated well in, Four Tet's latest effort is likely to conjure belief that its proximity is a mask for indulgence. Kieran Hebden's name may be down on the list. Whether or not he's remembered to put us down too; it's a right of passage towards the evolution of live electronica that feels often, and uncomfortably, astray.
~Jordan Helm


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