The majority of Four Tet reviews, it seems, assigns a notable TRANSFORMATIONAL quality to 2010’s There is Love in You, allotting it as a key shift in style from “indie rock” to “dance.” Just to clear the record up, anyway, Four Tet has never written lyrics in his life, as far as I know, and has always employed heavy use of drum machine (so though being “DIY,” technically, it definitely shirks indie’s typical category of “lo-fi”), so positioning him within the school of say Spoon, the New Pornographers and The Shins certainly seems a little odd. Truth be told, the differences between There is Love in You and 2003’s Rounds are surface-bound. The classically rendered epic heart and the knack for hewing out a memorable, lengthy album centerpiece a la “Unspoken” are common to both.
Kieran Hebden, Four Tet’s knob-twirling mastermind, has always made statements with his music itself, that is to say shunning excessive stylistic juts, drawing on the basic acid house playbook of Mouse on Mars and again, the European classical tradition, but on New Energy his swagger of rebellion lies, in fact, in obstinate, unflinching mellowness.
New Energy contains a “single,” although it can hardly boast the garish personality of say “Stacy’s Mom,” called “Two Thousand and Seventeen,” which I think Hebden unleashed for our ears sometime in mid-summer (I of course ignored it, through no fault of the precocious and crisp Morning/Evening, 2015). Now, it seems that typically the habit of ingratiating a single to a burgeoning album is to embed it way in the middle of said album, the way Beck is doing with “Wow,” so it surprised me that “Two Thousand and Seventeen” sprouted up at slot two, on New Energy. Even likable on first listen, “Two Thousand and Seventeen” reveals itself upon repetition as a staying achievement in contemporary electronica: taking the style of baroque classical (a harpsichord or a close electronic approximation thereto) and the attitude of jazz, something notably rare mind you among British artists other than Radiohead (the uncanny flair here for avoiding a climax or even, arguably, a STATEMENT) and wielding the virtuosic talents in arrangement of the man at the helm. The closest we get to the anthemic centerpieces of Hebden’s career such as “Unspoken” and “This Unfolds” is probably “You are Loved” (“Lush” coming across troublingly anticlimactic and thin), but the servitude here is undoubtedly to reinforce New Energy’s dynamic as an album of escape from life, rather than, necessarily, a comment upon it or a blueprint for intensifying or signifying it. To New Energy’s credit, it is effective in this very function. Appropriately enough, “LA Trance,” though not “trance” per se, will call to mind the unfinished, stoned percussion blips of Actress (who hails from the land of Hollywood himself). When this song opened so ambient and soft, to be honest, I got a feeling like I wanted to chuck the whole mess into the sea… then I realized I WAS at a sea, pastoral and expansive, already, with every bit the crests and waves of genuineness to stay the course of gentle, jazz-tinged deliberateness.
Juxtaposed with the selfsame, tawdry Cut Copy album of this year, then, a jackpot for music nerds here will be the unsystematic structure of this album. Hebden has always given us a healthy dose of one-or-two-minute interludes (see the excellent “Reversing”) and we get them here again: more unassuming and forgettable than the ones on There is Love in You, but still a feather in the cap of a true music-lover’s LP craftsman. Copious pointy, staccatoed guitar will call to mind fellow Englishman Chris Clark, the spare minimalism of Actress coming across as a vote of confidence in his own work, an evasion of excess, which is not only a refreshing cornerstone of New Energy but an undervalued, undeniable aspect in music in general.