It’s been 3 years since the release of Four Tets last full length album ‘New Energy’ which saw Kieran Hebden become a household favourite for many hardcore and casual electronic fans. With its dense and easily absorbed blends of house, techno and world music it became a staple of any ‘Indie music to chill to’ playlists. It also saw the Four Tet live experience become grander and reach new heights in terms of what an interactive live experience could be through the lighting instalment collaboration with Squidsoup
That doesn’t mean Hebden has been quiet in the studio. Last year he released the three track EP ‘Anna Painting’, a collaboration with painter Anna Liber Lewis in which the music and artwork were an inspiration for each other. A small teaser for what was to come.
On Kieran Hebdens 10th album under the Four Tet name, the club banger is often dropped in favour of a rich exploration of sound, taking elements of the world around him and creating one of his own.
The first quarter of the album is a flow of techno infused, beat heavy cuts that lean towards the more sample based and club orientated sounds that fans have come to know and love from Hebden. Opener ‘School’ clicks into action with the lo-fi beat favourite 808 drum machine, slowly adding layers of melodic synths, ambient textures and arpeggiated keys. It’s a classic Four Tet sound that ends as quickly as it started.
Lead single ‘Baby’, featuring a low-key vocal performance from Ellie Goulding, transitions through various stages, the simple beat and layered vocals that are found on many Four Tet cuts. Then gliding seamlessly into the ambient samples of birdsongs and drawn out synths, eventually grouping back together to fuse into a layered groove of melodies. The layers are taken away on ‘Harpsichord’ as the lead instrument from the tracks title takes centre stage, focusing more on the simple melodies and synth patterns.
The 3 track run of ‘Romantics’, ‘Love Salad’ and ‘Insect Near Piha Beach’ are shining examples of what makes Hebden a renowned producer. A Picasso of sound.
Each track reaches a euphoric high as each sound and movement is carefully picked and placed. A mixture of beats, clicks, samples, synths, disconnected voices and bird songs all flow gently through the air one after another as if racing to see which sounds can take the track in the next direction. ‘Romantics’ and ‘Insect Near Piha Beach’ bring back those bright and elegant dulcimer strings from ‘Two Thousand And Seventeen’ which shine through the mix like the sunlight through the trees of the cover.
The track ‘Something In The Sadness’ serves as the final flurry of techno glory before the album takes a breath and steps back. The glitchy arpeggios, pounding beat and rising synth strings don’t transition and change as much as some of their previous counterparts, keeping with a similar rhythm throughout, but offers a satisfying conclusion to the expeditious sounds of the first portion of the album.
The pounding beats and soft synths are taken away in favour of more ambient and earthly sounds as Hebden shows that he doesn’t need to rely on just the big bass to create a big sound.
Samples of birdsongs and water movements make their way back into the scene on a couple of the ‘transition’ tracks, layered with drawn out chords create a delicate infusion of the natural world and the digital sounds of modern life.
‘This Is For You’ and ‘Mama Teaches Sanskrit’ have a very Brian Eno essence around them as the slow gentle chords reach out into the world around them. It’s the album coming to the end of a journey and settling down after the frantic beats and dancehall grooves of the first few tracks.
In a time where we may all be feeling left very isolated, this album is the company that we all need. Calm, full of hope and full of the world around us. It may have not been intentional but Sixteen Oceans is a reminder there’s beauty out there waiting for us, when we’re ready to return.