Review Summary: Look through your window, the trees are blooming
We are all confined, and it's the mildest time of the year. Fortunately, Four Tet recently brought us an album to help us forget the four walls surrounding us 24/7. Already known for minimalistic yet exploding tones in which subtlety thrives through rhythmic electronic beats, Kieran Hebden chose to innovate within an aesthetic he himself created. Almost an appendix to 2017's New Energy
, this new output does differ in its all-encompassing approach from the environmental landscape developed three years ago. Or was it only three years ago? He always had this mellow seasonal sound, but has always sufficiently diversified his projects to bring his own sonic altitude to each of his albums. Offering this time sixteen tracks for sixteen oceans, giant shimmering ponds of clear yet deep water, this is the Englishman at his most seraphic.
While the first half is full of energetic house bops for botanical parties, Sxiteen Oceans
' second act relies more on calm ambient textures and epitomizes the relaxation a sweet Spring morning engenders. Perhaps it would have been judicious to distill this second part in the first one, if only to find a balance in the holistic listening of the album. The main flaw of the album is indeed its construction: while we are delicately swayed by the interlacing loops of the first part, the second one may seem disappointing at first glance due to its lack of dynamics. It therefore requires an effort to fully embark on the pastoral journey proposed by Four Tet. Yet, as the listens accumulates, underlying subtlety that might not appeal to those in search of immediacy emerges: what first appears as facile starts to become mysterious and bucolic. Like the Flower
video game, what is highlighted here is a faint blend of organic and synthetic. As the constellation of flowers flying surreptitiously through the remains of a fallen civilization, the acoustic incorporations glide through the electronic compositions. The essence of wind passing through burgeoning flowers gathers memories of the victory of the beautiful over the useful. It's a romantic invitation to many journeys, for in these times of quarantines hovers a perfume of escape. So, let's fly like the frail swallow that the wind makes tremble.
It is fitting in these times, as clubs shut down in the midst of a virus outbreak. Only Baby
, the Ellie Goulding vocal samples-led tune, reminds of earlier microhousey albums (There Is Love In You
comes in mind). And even there, a minute-long interlude allows the track to breathe and remind us all of the contemplative approach the record pursues. Although the DJ has always favoured reverie over the energy of club anthems, never before has it seemed so relevant. Helped with an armory of strings, the music sparkles as much as a Nicolas Feuillatte glass you would kill to spend your hard-earned money in a hip venue.
At the very least then, this is Four Tet's most natural and organic record yet: wind passing by and birds chirping are the album's main pattern. As mere field recordings to which bass and sophisticated electronic layers have been added, electronics does not seem to be, for once, the heart of creation, but rather the accompaniment of the awakening of nature. This makes for a fragile sound pallet, discreetly peaking in bubbling arrangements. The album is Spring in all its hope, serenity and innocence. As the weather finally grants us with some sunshine, this is the record you should spend your lockdown with. You will be trapped inside, but at least your mind can wander.