Review: Four Tet - Beautiful Rewind


I recall vividly, the moment, when I played Four Tet's "Peace For Earth" on a white sandy beach in the Maldives on a bright sunny evening last December. It was 3 days before Christmas and the sun was making its usual exit over the interminable horizon, leaving behind those luscious pink and golden hues that, makes every sunset of everyday, a different and yet, breathtaking experience, especially on a day as clear as that was. The reaction from the people on the beach was everything any DJ who builds a pre-sunset soundtrack could ever hope for, save two emotionally-void individuals (the gist of that story, I shall save for another day, if you haven't quite guessed already). Anyway, every other emotional response from every other individual, save those pulse-less two, to every extent, brought to being, the very essence of "Peace For Earth", and I think that's something all of us, human beings and political leaders all across the globe, alike, secretly wish could happen, in a perfect world.

There's always something about a Four Tet album release that evokes a certain emotional response from any individual who has been touched by Kieran Hebden's musical hand, and mind. Whether one views him as a trend jumper, or Johnny-come-lately artist, or simply a musical genius, make no mistake, there's always a point when you'll come to a greater appreciation and understanding of where you need to be at any given point in time.

When Kieran Hebden announced that 'Beautiful Rewind' was finished on the morning of July 22nd this year, he put it very plainly that there would be "no pre order, no YouTube trailers, no iTunes stream, no Spotify, no Amazon deal, no charts, no bit coin deal, no last minute rick rubin." Hebden further wrote on Twitter: "The album is all done and just getting some copies made and then will get it into the shops for you. LP, CD and Internet versions. deluxe sendspace edition with art print and unique numbered download code."

Anticipation, to say the least, was spreading like a rampant virus at that point and for days thereafter. However, a few brows were furrowed when "Kool FM" was released as the lead single. I certainly scratched my head and with pursed lips, wondered a little about where Hebden was going to take this one.

The single's title, in itself is named in honour of a 90s pirate radio station, instrumental in the development of Jungle and Drum n' Bass. It seemed, at the very beginning, to be nothing close - a very simple, stylised dance track; somewhat ordinary in every degree, but, somehow, you felt that it was going to take a mad curve along the way. It does after about two minutes, tearing in to a matrix of slashing, mangled drum breaks and rubbery basslines, abstracting that era's chopter rhythms and throaty MCs along itss way.

It drew quite a bit of flack among some producers who spoke out against the track. Zomby blasted Four Tet on Twitter, recently stating: "Still pissed u have the audacity to call a bait tune 'Kool FM' when you're about as much to do with Jungle as i am with Heavy Metal".

Make no mistake though, that whatever the topic of debate surrounding this single release may be, the rest of the album, borrows, without apology, from a trend but sounds undeniably like a Four Tet record. From the Jungle-tinged "Gong", which opens the album to its urban-tinged closer "Your Body Feels'.

For those who've followed through on Kieran Hebden's musical journey from the get go, you might remember "Love Cry", from 2010's excellent "There Is Love in You", being an actual club hit, as did several of the tracks from last year's 'Pink', a compilation of extended, dance-friendly singles.

If Hebden has been hopping trends, he's been doing so with a great amount of taste, style and finesse. If "Gong" sounded rough, raw and, to some extent chaotic to some of you, then "Parallel Jalebi" that follows, tidies up and smoothens out all that sub-urban chaos. There's almost a visceral and ironic twist to every Four Tet album though. Stompers like "Buchla" and "Aerial", which masterfully integrate sampled MCs into their jerky rhythms, stand in contradiction to "Unicorn"'s shimmering pools of melody.

'Beautiful Rewind' is Four Tet''s audacious trip back in time, revisiting the old, and yet to a greater extent, it's also, his rush into the new. Hebden's insidious navigation through this bubble that he's created, and although, at times when you feel that, through his incessant wanderings in flight, there seems to be no landing strip in sight, you'll find it in 'Our Navigation" or even "Ba Teaches Yoga" ; both of which bear that significant Four Tet touch - his ability to merge psychedelia and a plethora of melodic ideas, voices and rhythms into something so sun-drenched, it kind of takes your breath away. 

To a large extent, 'Beautiful Rewind' is pretty much Kieran Hebden stalking the past, and that, to some may seem like nothing ground-breaking or new. But for as much flack as Hebden takes for repeating what other artists have already done, he's managed to combine the best elements of Jungle, Bass, Drum and Bass and Breaks and weave his magic around them in the most tasteful of ways. It's his musical recollection and journey through a musical sub-culture that he's loved and cherished, and although, some may draw critical comparisons and references to the fact that he's never been a part of that sub-culture, this still feels to be a very personal body of work and, to Hebden, obviously something close to his heart.

Perhaps his personal connection to all this, may mean even more to Hebden himself, than to anyone else, and also probably he's chosen to go independent and release this album via his own Text label. But, that aside, 'Beautiful Rewind' is indeed a fine body of work. It's almost like rhythm and voices breaking through a rubbery web of radio static, grime and pink noise.

I guess I'll leave you with a few random lines lines from author Stephen Sparks: "Morning light through a paint flecked window; a tree you walk past everyday, the ruins of a nest exposed as the leaves fall away; a gust of wind scraping leaves along a pavement"...that's pretty much what this album gives you.

Footnote: This isn't the only album Four Tet has coming out soon. He also produced 'Wenu Wenu', the new album from Omar Souleyman, watch for it.

01. Gong
02. Parallel Jalebi
03. Our Navigation
04. Ba Teaches Yoga
05. Kool FM
06. Crush
07. Buchla
08. Aerial
09. Ever Never
10. Unicorn
11. Your Body Feels