Kieran Hebden, the quiet force behind the synthesizers of Four Tet, rejects any notion of a singular path to releasing music in 2013. He doesn’t press release sneak peeks at singles or drop teasers for videos. Four Tet pares it down to the basics: Here’s an album I’ve made. It will be released soon. That’s all you need to know. No hype, no tricks.
For his latest, Beautiful Rewind, Hebden posited that the record would have “no pre-order, no Youtube trailers, no iTunes stream, no Spotify, no Amazon deal, no charts, no Bitcoin deal, and no last minute Rick Rubin.” Hebden’s music is entirely his own, reflective of both his refusal to adhere to any linear narrative of what it means to be an artist in the digital age and an immense talent for pairing disparate elements in a cohesive manner.
Last year, Hebden released Pink, which — while not exactly a proper followup to 2010’s shimmering There is Love in You — is an expressive singles compilation, breathing the sweat of club backrooms and the down-tempo lull of pouring rain. Beautiful Rewind, by contrast, departs from gentle swells. Instead, it regresses into an intensive study of hypnotic incantations and obtuse rhythms.
The songs of Beautiful Rewind are marked by their conscious effort to never quite follow a traceable arc, instead morphing into subtle mantras that must be studied closely to be discerned. In that vein, opener “Gong” hinges on tribal beats and repetitive, indecipherable hums. Its rhythmic, almost paranoid texture resounds like a gazelle’s hooves as it sprints from the predator you can’t see, but you can certainly feel. “Our Navigation” disconnects from a potentially punchy melody, falling into a murky haze of keys, while “Kool FM” is the album’s most angular cut, bouncing from anticlimactic beats to warped jungle samples.
Even while plucking at ulterior rhythms and taut capture/release, Hebden never neglects his ability to surprise. The techno-laced “Aerial” is a masterful moment in manipulating percussive elements and marimbas, and yet it’s an intoxicating club song at the same time. “Your Body Feels” is a sultry number that folds in saxophones amidst the bombastic beats. Spirited “Parallel Jalebi” plays on Hebden’s strength at crafting tension-punctuated bloops and bleeps, juxtaposed by wispy vocals. The winsome “Crush” splices the same female vocals into gasps, like tiny breaths hitched in a throat, before dissolving into the throbbing “Buchla”.
While “Buchla” is the album’s most realized dance number, it progressively sinks into unsettling territory, the terrifying moment of naked consciousness amidst the desperate 3:00 a.m. club shuffle. The song is emblematic of Beautiful Rewind as a whole: the tracks don’t necessarily resonate as did the memorable, emotive singles that won over listeners’ hearts to begin with on catalogue highlight Rounds. The songs here, while dynamic in their own right, float in darker spaces, drifting in and out of white noise instead of remaining in light. At times, they illuminate a vibrant background; at others, they highlight the cobwebs otherwise covered by shadows.
Along with experimental noise virtuoso Tim Hecker, Hebden is one of the most progressive minds in a genre that seems to grow by the millisecond, splintering into sub-genres that have become facilitated by an immersive, increasingly technology-driven artistic process. It’s comforting to know that he is an artist sticking to his own morals, unfazed by competition (or even Rick Rubin production) and retaining the ability to rewind, to focus on what’s actually important. Not the marketing, not the festival circuit, not selling merch to an eager public. Instead, on Beautiful Rewind, Hebden displays the possibilities and complexities within the music itself.
Essential Tracks: “Your Body Feels”, “Aerial”, and “Buchla”