REVIEW: Four Tet – Sixteen Oceans

At birth the human body is made up of almost 75% water. By the time we enter adulthood the amount of water in our bodies drops to almost 60%. No wonder then that whenever I listen to Four Tet I feel like a baby again. Kieran Hebden (a.k.a. Four Tet, KH, 4T, 00110100 01010100 and/or ⣎⡇ꉺლ༽இ•̛)ྀ◞ ༎ຶ ༽ৣৢ؞ৢ؞ؖ ꉺლ,) seems to be so in touch with nature in his 10th album “Sixteen Oceans”, that birds, waters, winds and all sorts of ambient soundscapes make way for some of his most direct and club-ready songs, in a constant clash of styles and directions.

That’s not to say that Hebden is conflicted. He just seems to have a lot to say.

During an interview in 2013, Four Tet explained how nothing is more important to him than constantly evolving and moving forward. Well, after years of innovation and exploration of styles, “Sixteen Oceans” feels like Hebden needed to take account of what he’s achieved, sit back, write music and breathe. Yet this is no bad thing. Opener “School” is the perfect example. The sharp, harsh beat is disrupted by a signature Four Tet melody that twists and opens its arms before getting crushed by a Berlin-techno-like interlude that is ready made for clubs. “Something in the Sadness” is the sister track to “School”. If this was Four Tet 10 years ago, the two tracks would have merged into one 10-minute epic. Now though, Four Tet is giving himself time to breathe. “1993 Band Practice”, “Green”, “Bubbles….” and “4T Recordings” are an ambient collage that beautifully combines soundscapes, harpsichords, recording outtakes, nature and melody with Hebden giving us his best Eno, Fennesz or Tim Hecker impersonation.

The catchy “Baby” samples Ellie Goulding (unsurprisingly the new single from the album). The song is accompanied by an amazing video. I’m not sure if the video was finished before we were all asked to stay home for an indefinite period of time, but a video taking us on a flying journey though such spectacular landscapes seems so far away right now and also feels like Four Tet and director Joanna Nordahl are rubbing it in a bit.

The album’s epicentre is the duo of “Love Salad” and “Insect Near Piha Beach”. The former is the only long song of the album, with a fluid, liquid-like beat and scattered melody that refuses to stand still. The latter recalls Four Tet’s Plastic People days and revisits the Indian influences of his 2015 Morning/Evening album in surprising and beautiful effect. Lovely.

But my favourite song remains “Teenage Birdsong”.

If generating emotions and feelings through dance music is an art, Four Tet has mastered it.

“Teenage Birdsong” combines all elements that make Four Tet great. The ability to build and evolve melody, construct great dance songs and generate feelings that can change with each listen, whether you listen to the song on the bus to work or at an outdoor festival with the sun beaming down your face.

I caught coronavirus from a friend of mine in London. It is a horrible, vicious virus. At the peak of my illness my body was losing so much water that I felt less human. The new Four Tet album didn’t treat that, but it helped – almost like a water supplement. Being stuck inside a small East London flat during these extraordinary times, feeling like you were connecting with nature was all you could ask for; even in short, four-minute stints there was salvation in that.

 

Words by Constantine Courtis.

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