Four Tet
Three


3.5
great

Review

by hug rap's painful goodbye STAFF
March 21st, 2024 | 80 replies


Release Date: 03/15/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: point five

The world needs Four Tet/Kieran Hebden/KH like it needs a compass or a set of shoelaces and, as luck had it, my first exposure to his music was one of the more tangible benefits of spending the bulk of my teens in and out of Latin textbooks. Through a combination of a timely field trip, a gratuitous Boards of Canada namedrop, and a spirited recital of the kind of shaggy dog story that would get you thrown you out of any good bar, 16 y/o me somehow landed in the good books of the freshest Oxford grad in the classics dept, who in turn rewarded me with a few choice cuts from her CD stash: a cosy set of overlaps between post-rock, downtempo and indietronica, including Sigur Ros, the Third Eye Foundation, Tarwater, mùm, and the inevitable copy of Four Tet’s Rounds. On it went, and in came a slew of sauntering beats, bright-but-brittle daydream melodies, and plucked tones so sharp you can practically pick your nose with their vibrations, all instantly recognisable to absolutely anyone who's ever dipped into a Four Tet record from any point in his career.

In theory, this should have a timely fast-track to The Real Music, but the sorry truth of it is that the few, metal-addled brain cells I’d somehow safeguarded through puberty were too busy trying to suck up declensions and hone their parse game to wrap themselves around the idea that all great music had ever needed to do was chill and cruise. The only electronic music I dabbled in the time was soaked either in sweat (The Prodigy, Pendulum) or in noir pheromones (Massive Attack, Portishead), and although Rounds had a little more traction than the bulk of the album that accompanied it (cue a cheapo eBay nabbing of Pause, scoured for half a week or so and then promptly discarded), I neither had a particularly good ear for the more engaging experiments Four Tet was pulling with glitch and clashing aesthetics (“She Moves She”!), nor asked the questions I should have done over what its breezy pacing suggested for downtempo outside of trip-hop. The years since have taught me two key lessons: first, that Rounds is indeed a pinch over-acclaimed both within ‘00s indietronica (a riper field than most goodfolk nowadays would acknowledge (see Recommended Albums)) and among the rockists in adjacent orbit — but! second, that since I had no way of recognising this at the time, it’s a real shame that I didn’t take full advantage of my ignorance and start out on the same kind of ratty, indiscriminate love affair with Kieran Hebden that I instead blundered into with the likes of Mike Patton and John Haughm.

How different things could have been! Whether Four Tet is quite deserving of hero worship is another question, but he would have opened all the right doors: I could have had Pink rescue my experience of house music from the poison inflicted by one godawful French dick-for-brains after another over the UK charts (laconically supervised by Calvin Harris); I might have had my attention span revolutionised by Morning / Evening and the doors thrown open to as much ambient as I had time to waste in my undergrad years (God, so much time); I could have heard New Energy on release day and dubbed it AOTY with reasonable sincerity. Four Tet is one of the most uniquely well-positioned gateway artists within 21st century electronic: whether it's Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada or even Flying Lotus, most other obvious-namedrop artists are far too singular to posit much more than rabbitholes. Four Tet, on the other hand, is practically a signpost at the crossroads between any strain of IDM/house/downtempo/ambient you can be unafraid to throw on in a social setting, straddling fringe and mainstream styles alike (call it ‘house’ if woke, ‘microhouse’ if bespoke, etc.), and refusing to repeat himself outright despite cultivating an instantly recognisable signature style. In a similar vein to Radiohead and The Beatles, the relative ups and downs of his discography are such a fruitful discussion point — no two people will ever share the same opinion! — that it’s a slippery slope to treating him as a first-and-foremost Discourse Artist and forgetting that his music is still there to be heard.

But hear it we shall, and that’s exactly why I’m going to skip all the platitudes about his tenth album Three being the tenth LP of Four Tet’s long career, and how rewarding its been to watch him motor on with his ever-growing public profile (something about filling stadiums alongside Brian Eno’s vacuous boy-next-door and some cat called Kill-X) all while dishing out prize deep cuts (how many of you saps slept on his Parallel archival? Too many).

Three is indifferent to all that shite. Three is business as usual and could have come out at practically any given point in Four Tet's post-Rounds oeuvre – the only thing I can find binding it to the here-and-now is the tenuous sense that it reacts to Sixteen Oceans (2020)'s infamously lopsided sequencing with one of his smoother tracklists (though by no means seamless). It's got enough heart that we won't accuse it of going through the motions, yet if that was all you ever asked from Four Tet, this is surely a dream come true. Draw up a list of his signature styles, plump it up with examples, and you'll be rewarded with zany downtempo ("Three Drums", "Locked"), IDM space-outs ("So Blue"), microhouse chin-dippers ("Daydream Repeat", "31 Bloom"), distantly effervescent ambient ("Gliding Through Everything") and the occasional guitar showcase "Skater". The former three suits prove to be his strongest here – "Three Drums" is a closer so expansive and individually loopable that the seven preceding songs of album-mass scan as little more than a courtesy, while the more singular flourishes in "So Blue"'s wilfully uneven changes in velocity between individual notes alongside offer a more singular complement over liminal R&Bscape of choice vocal samples – while the latter two pan out as momentary derailments. While individually pleasant, "Gliding Through Everything" is an ambient misstep that calls an abrupt halt to the momentum of opener "Locked" (itself stifled by overly succinct confines – imagine a progression as robust as Rounds' "Unspoken"'s crammed into half the runtime) and opens an unnecessary lacuna that takes until "Daydream Repeat" to subside; on the other hand, the alt-rock guitar leads of "Skater" scared the life out of me on first perusal with the sense that my queued tracklist had somehow leapt through a streaming wyrmhole to hell, dumping me in front of the session tapes for Minutes to Midnight-era Linkin Park just as the album had hit its stride. I am pleased to say that this impression has since abated: "Skater" is a welcome change of pace, even if the sequencing somewhat overstates it as such.

…all of which is great. All styles present and accounted for, folded together on a stately tracklist that, for all its occasional lapses in energy, does an excellent job of emphasising the commonalities between these eight tracks to the point that their distinctions register as nuances within a holistic product. It's a solid album by anyone's standards, and a real testament to Four Tet's unassuming mastery that he folds such a range of stylings together without any individual one going out of its way to announce itself as such (we'll forgive the geetar). Put it on at practically any given time and place, and it will find a way to subtly augment your day without compromising it; show it to any acquaintance, and watch their opinion of your taste and judgement creep marginally upwards.

However, I feel in my guts that anything I have to say about this record and its many positives is more acknowledgement than full-tilt praise: for all its proficiency and nourishing background aptitude, Three reminds me why I ultimately didn't initially fall in love with Four Tet, why it's rare to find anyone with outright strong opinions on him despite the position of universal affection he occupies within the electronic community, and why the great respect I've accrued from trawling his discography is more admiration for the versatility of his craft than the real imprint of any single piece of his music. Three is competent enough to reinforce all of this both for better and for worse: its production is spotless and its palette as accessible as one could ask, and when I feel this or that of its tracks is lacking (we'll take the rather perfunctory melodic frittering of "Storm Crystals" as a case-in-point here), I struggle to point out exactly what it needs more of. The closest I can get for what's holding Three back is some measure of the fragility and subtle suggestion of tenderness that make New Energy such an enduring highlight of his discography – this album feels densely saturated and occasionally a little leaden in its pacing, where New Energy and even Sixteen Oceans were more often prepared to pare their tracks back to the bare minimum and allow the strength of their central motifs or tones to speak for themselves.

And yet, this is just tangential to why Three doesn't carry itself as the cut-and-dry stellar record it almost convinced me into viewing it as: to cut to the heart of things in rather ungracious terms, its impact is too modest and its aptitude for mood music too diffuse. Naysayers of 'background music' would likely defend it as too intricately textured to qualify as such while secretly admitting to themselves that the album's appeal rests on the minimal demands made of their attention by the leisurely, cyclical development of each piece – and on the other hand, those quite happy to accept atmospherically profuse 'background music' as exactly that may quickly reach the limit to their satisfaction with Three's unwavering insistence on room temperature chillout. Which is fine. I'm sure it will make an excellent talking point.




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user ratings (63)
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 21st 2024


60206 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

this is late / it spent too much time in the oven / i have a cold (dramatic) / this is not nearly as good a discourse-album as Four Tet is a discourse-album / will doubtless end up feeling strangely essential to 2024 despite not being a highlight / good record

Pikazilla
March 21st 2024


29713 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

confusing album title

botb
March 21st 2024


17765 Comments


Heard really good thing about this from a coworker, will probably check eventually

Demon of the Fall
March 21st 2024


33540 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah, it’s here! Will read shortly.

v good album, probably not amongst his best but pretty smooth / unobtrusive for a guy who does a lot of shit-throwing hodgepodge with regards to quality control

The beats are present and that’s a +++

jrlikestodance
March 21st 2024


288 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Nice review! I'm finding this to be my favorite Four Tet album since Pink but time will tell if that holds true. I do agree with the point that his discography isn't maintaining his admiration or relevancy. I find his DJ sets and live albums much more engaging personally as that is where I think he truly shines. The Alexandria Palace live album from last year is worth checking out if you haven't already

bighubbabuddha
March 21st 2024


481 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Three Drums is my SOTY so far. nice review

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 21st 2024


60206 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

cheers gang

does a lot of shit-throwing hodgepodge with regards to quality control

^I don't think this is that fair tbh outside of Everything Ecstatic, Beautiful Rewind and ig Sixteen Oceans (all of which offset this slightly with the occasional striking highlight). the more common Four Tet bugbear for me is sloppy pacing, lethargic energy levels and a blurry line between the bland and the beautiful, which runs through almost all his 'best' albums and this one

The Alexandria Palace live album from last year is worth checking out if you haven't already

oh no! will peep this at some point, cheers. may also do a full discog ranking to round off the pre-release binge I've been on lol

Pikazilla
March 21st 2024


29713 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

my only pet peeve with some of four tet's output is that sometimes it sounds like yoga class music

mindleviticus
March 21st 2024


10484 Comments


easily his best in recent years

AmericanFlagAsh
March 21st 2024


13200 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Agreed about him being always praised but never really LOVED

This is an excellent, beautiful album, but will I come back to it many times? Probably not, but still appreciate it.

bloc
March 21st 2024


69925 Comments


Haven't heard all his albums, but this is by far the best I've heard

Pikazilla
March 21st 2024


29713 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

pause is the best one imo

gabba
March 21st 2024


777 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

This is good, but “Rounds” is another dimension, magical, would even happily do yoga to it. Maybe I’m not the only one still searching for that sound in his new releases? It sometimes gets close, but never really there.

Pikazilla
March 21st 2024


29713 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

gabba strop trolling

Mort.
March 21st 2024


25062 Comments


big tet
small tet
cardboard tet

Pikazilla
March 21st 2024


29713 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

what about mort tet

AmericanFlagAsh
March 21st 2024


13200 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Three Tet

Mort.
March 21st 2024


25062 Comments


tet a tet

tet tac toe

Pikazilla
March 21st 2024


29713 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

tit for tet

Demon of the Fall
March 21st 2024


33540 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I would like to clarify my earlier claims by saying ‘a lot’ was a massive exaggeration, lol

4tet has some tendency to drop immersion-breaking cuts into otherwise vibe-rich efforts. Having said that, everything I’ve heard from this guy is a winner on the whole



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