Four Tet– Beautiful Rewind
Release Date: October 14, 2013
Record Label: Text
Ever the consummate crate-digger, Keiren Hebden (alias Four Tet) recently performed an eight hour DJ set for Rinse FM that began with a Bollywood tune and included an unreleased contribution from longtime collaborator Burial. To say that the mix was eclectic would be to do Hebden a great disservice; it was an event that could only happen under his watch and was not dissimilar in this regard from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. The demarcation between Four Tet and the French duo comes in the way they treat their own deified status and privilege; while the Robots reveled in the exclusionary nature latent in their music, Hebden is more than willing to share the wealth, to liberate songs from the vault that they have been locked away in. This is in no small part a representation of Hebden’s long professed admiration for UK pirate radio, a narrative that will deservedly be bandied about surrounding the release of Beautiful Rewind, the latest record from the pioneering auteur.
While his past releases often functioned as serene, dry-aired oases unmarred by the human hand; the dance-oriented placidity of Pink has given way to the inevitable tide of industrialization on Beautiful Rewind, as Hebden creates what to many westerners will feel like field recordings of a bustling North African port city. One in which street performers and merchants will callously interrupt anyone travelling with a purpose but are yet integral to the ecosystem in which they exist, as in the case of “Kool FM”s insidiously clever trick of a hook. The inverse of the jungle inspired “Kool FM” formula is “Crush,” where sticks are run unevenly against a chain link fence as tantalizing angelic vocals that once would have been the tent-pole of a Four Tet track surface and submerges instantly. The garage clanging of “Gong” sounds as though it originates from a prosperous shipwrights yard, cut through with patches of ethereal vocals from a different realm. It’s reinforced by Hebden himself using some random passerby as a mouthpiece, proclaiming with a stern confidence - “You don’t fuck with me. Trust this.” The most truly industrial hallmarks come with the rotor blade slices of “Your Body Feels” or the garbled commands and radar squelches of “Our Navigation.”
Even when such a city has seemingly lost its natural “soul” to the gaping maw of industry, it surprises with moments of beauty and synchronized rhythms that could only be produced within the confines of its environment. The mournful jazz composition and muzzled serenade (possibly contributed by Thom Yorke, if my suspicions are correct) of “Your Body Feels” or the meditative, nearly Pink-esque “Ba Teaches Yoga” that is a patch of brightness before you lurch back into the clutch of modernity. The sounds that can keep a visitor up at night eventually become soothing and the anxiety-ridden white noise is sorely missed when silenced, and this is what Hebden has an unexpected vise grip of on Beautiful Rewind. Similarly, where the ideas composing that riotous background noise originate is irrelevant, as a port is the traditional place where ideas and customs mingle and are exchanged freely. Hebden captures the essence of this trade deftly, bringing the wildly different sounds already mentioned and innumerable ones that were not into his workshop before placing the finished products of nostalgic yet forward thinking jungle and garage on display.
“Aeriel” returns once more to the naturally rhythmic cadence of an unnamed, babbling street prophet MC that we heard earlier on “Buchla.” Beginning with bubbling tension amidst soft leather skin drum beats, Hebden shifts it into an entirely new composition just over halfway through the track. It becomes a beast of a track, as someone’s rambling about smoking drugs is lost to the clamorous ether. After a short mosquito buzz interlude respite, you stumble into “Unicorn,” the spacious, breathless huff of which cascades with runs of chimes that falters and degenerates before briefly re-emerging teasingly, with a more fleshed out aesthetic. Hebden pulls the song away just as you begin to fall face forward into the soft, dim glow of the sun through the window that the song evokes.
Hebden pulls a similar trick many times on Beautiful Rewind, dipping into crevices and reemerging armed with something entirely different than what he disappeared with. And he does so without losing a sense of cohesion or creating an unconstrained bubbling froth of chaos and anarchy, marking him as an ambitious architect. It sprawls and can feel tenuous, even precipitously close to collapse under its own weight, but the moment of calamity never arrives. It stands instead as a monument not to the person who has erected it, but to the multitudinous influences that brought it into being.