Review Summary: slowly growing without overflowing
We are, by and large, a patient people. We value stretches of solitude and quiet, drifting through waves of stimulus in order to arrive at moments of genuine significance. It’s a primary function of any hobby, be it crafting universes through the verb, the ink, or the carefully sequenced succession of notes. I think the wonderful thing about Four Tet’s (Also known as Kieran Hebden) most recent output, New Energy
, is its ability to make the interim feel like the endpoint, to feel both patient and salient in the same breath.
Or maybe it feels so necessary because of its composure. Disregarding the (still phenomenal, still tranquil; balancing on a single harp) opener, Two Thousand and Seventeen
interweaves hallmarks of a welcoming, crystalline introductory piece, calmly riding in on a mellifluous bass-line before positioning itself under that ray of crisp sunshine breaking through the window. Perhaps inadvertently -- and, as a piece that reflects the intentions of the record -- the song feels like a response, a moment deliberately paused in the face of panic. On a more minute scale still, is how this record is contextualised within Four Tet’s discography; by which I mean, New Energy
sees Hebden at a juncture where not talent nor creativity need be the subject of dispute. The record is comfortable; it turns two blind eyes to deadlines and pressure with a tactfulness that can only be achieved by an artist who is so firmly ingrained in the movement he is propagating. Even Lush
-- a jittery, fleetfooted number -- retains that air of equanimity, never overflowing with detail or losing its balance.
Here then is where the spirit of this record lies: the idea that every element, every sound, is applied with the perfect weight and the perfect proportion; a golden spiral hiding behind the veneer of IDM. It’s what lends the album its warm, gentle glow.
I can see me pouring parts of myself into this record because it’s spacious rather than empty, blooming rather than barren. Hebden opens up room for these shifting components to move by employing drum loops that act as constants, providing reliable foundations that account for new additions to the mix: a vivisected vocal sample in closer, Planet
, an unassuming glockenspiel melody in You Are Loved
, the effervescent synth sequences in Memories
. Of course, this isn’t uncommon within IDM’s sphere, but here -- in that moment where we see ourselves reflected in the shimmering waters -- the rhythms are the ripples that breathe life into the stillness, and the melodies don’t sit on top of them so much as they sink into them.
And of reflections, New Energy
feels branded as such because it’s a document of experiences -- like a journal of sorts, though more abstract and more ambiguous. Revisiting emotions and memories has always been a yielding method of appraising, more accurately than if done in the present, whether experiences have contributed to the development of character. It’s a process which tethers the ruminative soul to the moments that imbued it with its values and qualities. In this context, it charts a musical and emotional progression in a lightning-in-a-bottle kind of way, even though Four Tet constructs music that closer engenders a light drizzle. It’s that quiet, subtly poignant atmosphere that recalls the intimacy between person, pen and paper. Hebden is a fantastic producer (his penchant for IDM that feels natural and commiserating hasn’t decayed over so many years), honing in on a journey that’s intensely personal to both the artist and the audience. Idiosyncrasies, imperfections et al, New Energy
takes the experiences worth codifying, bottles them up and pours them across a series of lovely beats. I can see Hebden making the smallest of creative breakthroughs as he sits eating breakfast in Lush
, just the same as I can envisage him sitting cross-legged by a brook while the vocal samples in Scientists
burst and blossom like a time lapse on the first day of spring.
I can’t shirk the feeling of nostalgia that this record proffers in its most (characteristically) warm and gentle sequences. With it, comes a splash of romanticism, like Four Tet -- the artist – is extracting old concepts (i.e. the serene, percussionless interludes of Rounds
) so that he may iron them out and hold them under the lens of retrospect. And it circles back to that idea: patience, as afforded by hindsight, permeating an album of possibly surprising quality (considering the expectation of tired legs this far down the road), yet of undeniable import. If nothing else, it substitutes the ‘Intelligent’ in IDM with ‘intimate’ and it illuminates naturally and comfortingly, like a candle…or a welcomed sliver of good news.