Release Date: Jul 10, 2015
Record label: Temporary Residence
Genre(s): Electronic, Club/Dance, Experimental Techno, Ambient Techno
Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, released his latest album Morning/Evening digitally ahead of its physical release date, but just in time for the summer solstice; the terse writeup on his band camp page simply explains what software was used to create the compositions featured on the album (Ableton Live, in case you're wondering). Four Tet's previous album, Beautiful Rewind, featured sly nods to the jungle and drum & bass sounds that were once at the musical forefront. Morning/Evening, on the other hand, seems most influenced by new-age music, a genre that has captured Hebden's imagination in recent years.
After the crossover success of his early-2000s breakthrough records Pause and Rounds, Kieran Hebden, AKA Four Tet, hasn’t been afraid to challenge his audience. Between 2005 and 2010, Hebden did all he could to shed the easy-listening “chill vibes” crowd that joined the throng after 2003’s Rounds, turning in acid-fried noise-tronica with the hugely underrated Everything Ecstatic and a prolific string of free-jazz collaborations with the late drummer Steve Reid. After allowing some of those fair-weather fans back into the fold with the relatively crowd-pleasing efforts of his last two LPs, Hebden is back at it again with Morning/Evening, a 40-minute LP comprised of two 20-minute long slow-burners that are at once classic Four Tet, and a step in a new direction for the veteran producer.
Since his 1999 debut ‘Dialogue’, Kieren Hebden has turned his hand to all manner of electronic noise, from the jazz of 2007’s ‘Tongues’ (made with jazz drummer Steve Reid) to garagey pirate-radio rave (2013’s ‘Beautiful Rewind’, his seventh album as Four Tet). ‘Morning / Evening’, his self-released eighth album, comprises two 20-minute tracks. Hypnotic opener ‘Morning Side’ is one of the most moving pieces of music Hebden has ever put his name to, weaving a heartbreaking sample of Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar into metronomic techno drums, airy chords and subtle blips.
On Morning Side, the first track of this two-track album, a sample of Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar repeats, as Kieran “Four Tet” Hebden assembles beats and textures beneath Mangeshkar’s voice using Ableton software, complete with time glitches. On Evening Side – which seems to pack in more thematic dawns than Morning Side – a wordless sample repeats elegiacally, as the digital sands shift beneath, eventually morphing into something you might dance to. Producer and DJ Hebden’s bow has many strings, but this low-key treat finds space both for subcontinental rigour – classical Indian ragas are often categorised by times of day – and effortless prettiness.
Kieran Hebden is who his 26-year-old compadre Jamie Smith wants to be someday, possibly today. Few electronic musicians get to enter their second decade as lauded as their first — not via late discovery or the noise of a rabid cult, just a healthily bubbling interest-as-usual. He outsources production, but not for anyone who might accidentally become a star.
When Kieran Hebden began to play shows in support of his 2013 album Beautiful Rewind, one of the album's shorter tracks, "Ba Teaches Yoga", became a set centerpiece. Named for his recently departed maternal grandmother, the burbling track began to dilate beyond its original three-minute length as he kept performing it, eventually nearing the twenty-minute mark by the end of the tour. There might not be a direct sonic correlation between that track and the two twenty-minute tracks that comprise the entirety of Four Tet's eighth album, Morning/ Evening, but they seem thematically of a piece.
Over the past few years, Kieran Hebden's flirtations with house music turned into a full-blown love affair. Two of his recent albums, Four Tet's Pink and this year's Percussions collection, 2011 Until 2014, were essentially compilations of dance floor 12-inches. Neither was subpar, but the more functional formats didn't always play to Hebden's strengths: his skill at wandering between styles, his knack for rich chords and melodies.
Kieran Hebden, the 34-year-old English producer behind Four Tet, may be just outside the millennial age bracket, but he mirrors their lifestyle with unintentional ease in aimless videos of himself at the post office and tweets made solely of emojis. Often, he deconstructs the wall separating fans and artists, offering followers spots on his Boiler Room guest list just because. On Morning/Evening, his eighth full-length, that carefree attitude manifests in the album’s wandering construction.
Kieran Hebden’s compositional skill have always been one of the traits that separate him from less accomplished knob twiddlers; it infuses his music with a tenderness born of obsessive caretaking. Rather than simply gathering found sounds, he adopts them into his sonic fold with a permanence that inspires belief—a belief that we're in good hands. His penchant for absorbing disparate influences has played out across eight Four Tet studio albums and a number of satellite releases, resulting in a catalog stuffed with far-flung ideas filtered through a loving gaze.
Four Tet's music has moved deeper into the dance floor since his folk-tinged 2003 landmark, Rounds, but it hasn't become any less exquisite or psychedelic. His latest, released online sans fanfare, pairs tracks called "Morning" and "Evening" — each the length of an LP side — inspired by his late grandfather's collection of Hindi film soundtracks. Both sample Indian national heroine Lata Mangeshkar, the voice of hundreds of Bollywood musicals, now fluttering amid dancing synth melodies over pillowy bass tones and plush orchestral beds.
Kieran Hebden was far from silent surrounding the release of Morning/Evening, the eighth Four Tet album. In 2015, among a typical stream of activity, there was the release of 2011 Until 2014, a compilation of material produced under his Percussions alias, as well as the Strings of Life 12", a roaring update of Derrick May's early techno touchstone recorded live in 2006 with Steve Reid. Much different from seventh Four Tet album Beautiful Rewind, a set of relatively brief and urgent productions inspired by U.K.
Peculiarly enough, it’s the things that I would have expected to count in its favor, Morning/Evening’s most distinctive features, that I feel most ambivalent about. A first case: the initially quite beguiling Bollywood vocal sample — a few phrases from Lata Mangeshkar singing “Main Teri Chhoti Behana Hoon,” left here almost unadorned — dominates the first side. The first time it kicks in is the kind of moment I might say would send a shiver down your spine, if I were that kind of person who said that sort of thing; it’s a striking, memorable sample for sure, a great find, but it can’t bear the weight the song puts on it.
There are three big reasons why this music probably won’t get much critical attention: 1. It’s pretty low-key.. 2. It’s divided into two long tracks, which makes it harder for people writing about music to group the sound into boxes. (“This cut worked, that cut didn’t.”).
For his eighth record, Four Tet, a.k.a. Kieran Hebden, has forgone the traditional album-press cycle to a greater degree than usual for the understated English producer. The two roughly 20-minute tracks that comprise “Morning/Evening” appeared without fanfare on Hebden’s Bandcamp page a few weeks ago. It’s a fittingly mysterious presentation of the music, which gurgles gradually into consciousness like the titular binary, the colors of sunrise and sunset enveloping in the electronically rooted compositions.
Depending on who you are, the Summer Solstice can represent many different things, whether it’s enjoying the extra long evening, visiting your nearest stone circle or maybe even dabbling in a bit of free love (if you’re into that sort of thing). But if you happen to be Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, the 2015 Summer Solstice meant the the surprise release of a new album. Morning/Evening is an album of two halves.
Choosing the top track in NOW reviews can sometimes feel like an impossible task - a reader might only listen to that one song before giving up, so an album's fate is partly in your hands. (Or maybe I'm being a touch dramatic.) With Four Tet's latest album, however, the choice is easy. Morning/Evening consists of just two 20-minute songs, and Morning Side is the clear standout.