Four Tet’s seventh full-length album, Beautiful Rewind is evidence of Kieran Hebden stepping back and contemplating what he has lived. Having entered the UK electronic scene around 1998 at the height of Jungle, trip-hop and garage, Hebden has lived these genres and Beautiful Rewind offers a retrospective, less a trip bathed in melancholic nostalgia and more a reminder of the veracity of the times.
Hebden built a name for himself through his releases via Domino, and has earned himself a reputation as a DJ’s DJ, now releasing his own 12” vinyl whenever he feels like it (as was the case with this album). From production to performance, his aura is one of mythic proportion, exhibiting an uncanny knack for groove in even the most obscure and unsettling aural textures and a progressive mind that encompasses the most forward-thinking philosophy with regards to beat creation.
The opening moments of first track ‘Gong’ ignite the album with a fuzz of a needle hitting vinyl and from there a fuzzed-out pastiche ensues which doesn’t build so much as it merely exists. Discordant bells and gongs echo, providing both comfort and discomfort while a tightly looped sample of a garage or grime MC jostles for space between the intricate and frenetic drum pattern. There is also a vocal accent popping in throughout making the transition into the latest single and slow-burning (almost) hip hop beat ‘Parallel Jalebi’ seem completely necessary. The vocal element throughout this track is reminiscent of the type of RnB vocal work that was so commonplace in the heyday of UK Garage.
The opening four-track foreplay soothes the listener into the album. ‘Our Navigation’ is the first track to hint at another MC sample that features throughout the rest of the album. The effect is almost as if you’re driving through London with a shitty car radio, trying to pick up your favourite pirate station that keeps finding you and losing you directly after. These soundscapes are the times when Hebden evinces not only his experience, but also the sonic maturity that has come along with it. As he said in his Creators Project video, in producing tracks Hebden is content to explore the infinitesimal space of every bit of every sample, like, for example, when he listened to a single four-bar drum-loop on the train from Paris to London.
Cue first single ‘Kool FM’ – after around two minutes of build the track cuts into a jarring jungle snare beat and a MC vocal sample features heavily at the forefront of the track. This all continues, providing for the chaos through which tranquillity is achieved; all the while the bass kick sounds as if it’s happening in the room next-door. ‘Crush’ offers a tiny bit of respite before ‘Buchla’ (a nod to the famous synth maker) interrupts with its badman riddim, offering a dark smoky menacing beat – something you’d likely hear in Brixton in a small 10×10 metre blacked-out basement, being rained on by everyone’s ketamine laced sweat.
‘Aerial’ offers a climax with the MC finally allowed to semi-coherently spit ‘you want to get fucked/you want to smoke drugs’ while merely being faded out after an intense 5 or so minutes. This is perhaps where a problem with the album lies. Although Hebden offers masterful compositions with a dense, rich and endearing characteristic it may be where he loses the listener. The intensity of these moments can often be quite alienating and exclusionary. The album can at times be too subjective, his egg-headed tendencies just a bit too overbearing. This is a minor critique though, and it perhaps may just be the experience of a first-time listener who is not used to the type of exploration one gains through focussing on the short drum patterns and soundscapes.
Kazmir Malevich’s aesthetic theory known as Suprematism is perhaps an apt example of this album. Malevich’s work ‘White-on-White’ for all intents and purposes is a white canvas slightly offset and placed on another. When first looking at it your initial fleeting assumption might be that this guys’ work is minimalist and impersonal. Yet, when you get closer you notice the artist’s own hand in amongst the texture of the paint. Such is the case with Beautiful Rewind: the album is something completely synesthetic. This is something that you’re most likely to realise in the closing moments of the album, when time is allowed for stasis and contemplation in the wake of the tracks that preceded them, ‘Your Body Feels’ being the prime example.
Hebden not only transcends the usual genre types, paying homage to the scene that nurtured him, but also realises a sound that stands in opposition to the glossy house music now emanating from the UK (read: Disclosure) and what’s fantastic is that it is his own. His perspective is not one of pining for the good old days, but rather acknowledging them for their formative quality realising their energy and reimagining a new context, one of the present.
Buy the album, out on Hebden’s own imprint, Text, here.