The ninth album to be released by electronic wizard Kieran Hebden as Four Tet may seem to be something of a misnomer, as none of the tracks sound either particularly new nor particularly energetic. However, New Energy proves to be a mesmerizing journey in ambient sound, less dance-oriented than recent albums, but providing a rich and contemplative textural experience nonetheless. Comparisons have been drawn with 2003’s similarly downtempo Rounds, and New Energy certainly does seem to be a marriage of the ‘folktronica’ which made Hebden’s name in the early 2000s and the club-friendly focus of more recent albums. If it does take fewer risks than Four Tet’s other albums, this arguably also makes it more accessible.
a mesmerizing journey in ambient sound
The gentle, soothing opener, Alap, features an exquisite harp section, and immediately suggests that this album will have a more downtempo focus. The chilled-out vibes continue into Two Thousand and Seventeen, one of the early singles to be released from New Energy, which is driven by a pulsing bassline, yet dominated by a beautiful, uplifting sitar and calming, ethereal vocal fragments. This track demonstrates the significant influence of traditional Indian music as inspiration for New Energy, similar to Four Tet’s 2015 album Morning/Evening. In the months building up to the record’s release, Hebden compiled a bizarrely extensive and wide-ranging Spotify playlist, running to over 51 hours long in total, showcasing a myriad of his influences from around the globe, which invites the listener to situate this latest album in its global and historical musical context. Hebden has previously expressed his hopes that his music can bring “unity, love and solidarity” in the face of the “intolerance and hate in the world”, and Two Thousand and Seventeen certainly feels like a hopeful and positive response to the tumultuous events of the year so far, bringing a moment of calm and pause which feels almost spiritual.
Lush is one my favourite tracks from this album, incorporating global musical influences with synths and lively percussion to create a perfect balance between tranquillity and dancefloor. Memories also stands out with its shimmering synths and dreamy, poignant melodies, creating an atmosphere of warmth and intimacy. But Scientists is arguably the most striking track of all, skilfully switching tempos and contrasting attention-grabbing vocals with the foundational drum loop, and towards the end of the track a joyful, spiralling saxophone, to create perfectly complementary moments of still open space and lush textural layering.
shimmering synths and dreamy, poignant melodies, creating an atmosphere of warmth and intimacy
SW9 9SL, the album’s longest track, indicates a return to more typical dancefloor style, the postcode of the title transporting you to Brixton Academy, where Hebden hosts legendary annual all-night raves. Daughter again features layers of gentle vocals in an otherworldly loop, against graceful piano, and brings a personal and intimate element to the album, being dedicated to Hebden’s own daughter, and featuring a child’s voice at the end of the track.
Some tracks, such as You Are Loved and 10 Midi, are definitely less interesting than others on the album. LA Trance, which features a heavier, more house-y bassline, gradually builds up into one of the album’s more up-tempo tracks, yet it takes a very long time to develop, and risks verging on dull. Parts of the album do require careful listening to avoid it turning into a homogenous mass of background noise.
Hebden has been self-releasing his albums since 2012, when he left Domino Records, and does very little PR or promotional work, all of which he also manages himself. There is no corporate sheen then to Four Tet’s albums, and this comes across in the music, which genuinely sounds like heartfelt personal expression. The unhurried pace of New Energy, its detailed precision and finely nuanced balance coupled with its sense of warmth and spiritual contemplation, give it integrity, and overall it is both enigmatic and revelatory, comforting and entrancing.