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Four Tet

The brainchild of FRIDGE boffin Kieran Hebden, solo sampladelic side-line FOUR TET ferment a flighty mix of trip-hop, krautrock/jazz-rock and lap-top folktronica, shaped by post-rock forefathers TORTOISE, DJ SHADOW and The ORB. Born 2nd September 1978, Putney, south-west London, to a South African-raised Indian mother and English father, Kieran Hebden began his pseudonymous moonlighting work as 4T Recordings, issuing 7-inch `Double Density’ in July 1997 on the back of FRIDGE’s first full-set outing “Ceefax”. Almost forgotten was Kieran’s other camouflaged single, `Falken’s Maze’ (under the Joshua Falken disguise), but in the meantime, FOUR TET was duly chosen to represent a teenager still in his musical development.
Whether an epic soundscape of one marathon piece of music on maxi-CD or split two-ways on 12-inch vinyl (“Eighteenfortythree” and “Seventeenfortytwo”), the timing was indeed intact for FOUR TET’s debut release, the 36:25 long `Thirtysixtwentyfive’ (1998) – an NME “Single” of the week. A fascinating slide of musical genres, mostly hip-hop and electronica based, with breakbeats, voice samples/loops, sirens and sound effects et al, lo-fi post-rock was back in the hands of the Brits.
Following on from attendant lead EP track, `Misnomer’, FOUR TET’s first album proper was the eclectic and mellow DIALOGUE (1999) {*8}. Acoustic guitars, thumb pianos and a whole host of weird instruments collided with the scathing electronic drum samples, all to startling effect on `The Space Of Two Weeks’, `3.3 Degrees From The Pole’ (sampling ROXY MUSIC track `2HB’) and `Calamine’. A radio version of the latter cut duly complemented the flip of FOUR TET’s 11-minute side, `Glasshead’, a transcending, hallucinogenic kraut-rock adventure in stereo.
A subsequent post-millennium collaboration with electro-wizard POLE (featuring two versions of both `Heim’ and `Cload’) had fresh fans salivating on what might be next. Possibly one of the best albums of the year, sophomore set PAUSE (2001) {*9} carried on in much the same vein as their previous venture, although – now signed to Domino Records – with Kieran was more focused on the hazy, dreamy, field aspect of his music. Projecting `Untangle’ and `Twenty Three’, the listener could just about imagine driving along a coast-line on a warm clear afternoon, gazing at the sea; whereas the heavy dub-electronica of infectious stand-out track, `No More Mosquitoes’ (featuring cutesy-pie vox), reminded one that FOUR TET’s pulse, although 70% organic, was still deeply rooted in a post-rock lo-fi experiment.
Taking a break from FRIDGE’s quiet minimalism (2001’s “Happiness” being their last for some time), Hebden’s FOUR TET returned with 2003’s ROUNDS {*8}. More dream-like in its conviction, the laptop man’s latest was a thoroughly tripped-out piece of electronica, with a touch of atmospherics here and there on `My Angel Rocks Back And Forth’, `She Moves She’, `As Serious As Your Life’ and the dreamy melodicism of opening salvo `Hands’. A marvellous effort from one of the nation’s leading laptop folktronicists, Kieran’s detachment from other musos around him was a welcome force to be admired.
Having breeched the Top 60 with “Rounds”, a similar feat transpired for 2005’s EVERYTHING ECSTATIC {*7}, a set he’d worked on while appearing on the Steve Reid Ensemble’s `Spirit Walk’. Balancing a sunny-day sound that coincidentally encompassed TORTOISE and AUTECHRE, the lead single `Smile Around The Face’ and the similarly noodle-friendly `Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions’ and `Turtle Turtle Up, were quirky enough to chew on.
Un-setting the controls for the heart of “The Sun” (FRIDGE’s one-off comeback album in ’07) – and a KIERAN HEBDEN and STEVE REID album of outtakes “Tongues” – FOUR TET lifted the lid on his soundtrack heroes such as JOHN CARPENTER, TANGERINE DREAM et al, for the 4-track EP, `Ringer’. Lasting over half an hour, complemented as it was by exclusive `Ribbons’, `Swimmer’ and `Wing Body Wing’, the record was a peace offering to fans awaiting set number five.
Breaking the Top 40 (Top 200 Stateside), THERE IS LOVE IN YOU (2010) {*8} was a stark and cerebral reminder that FOUR TET were not quite a spent force. Taking his mantle from CLUSTER, PHILLIP GLASS and all of the above, the ghostly 9-minute `Love Cry’ showed the most emotion, while texture and space were keywords concerning `Angel Echoes’ (featuring sampled voices), `Sing’ and the airy `Circling’.
Moonlighting for various other projects (alongside Rocketnumbernine, THOM YORKE, and as the pseudonymous Percussions), Hebden’s one-man FOUR TET ran up two further sets in relatively quick succession: in between a further raft of shared platters on his newly-founded Text imprint, 2012’s PINK {*8} and 2013’s BEAUTIFUL REWIND {*7} pushed out the envelope. Veering vehemently toward house music on the first of these, the DJ man’s hypnotic and twitching rhythms were all over the shop on such elongated pieces such `Locked’ and `Lion’, while `Jupiters’, `Pyramid’ and the 11-minute POPOL VUH-esque `Peace For Earth’ pressed play between a liaison of aliens and humanoids. Serving up shorter tracks on “BR” (the longest track at 5 minutes: `Kool FM’), the low-key, un-promoted follow-up threw in garage, grime and gangly gyration on the spacey drum ‘n’ bass/breakbeat/industrial-dance of best bits `Parallel Jalebi’, `Buchla’ and `Unicorn’.
Clocking up his eighth FOUR TET set, MORNING/EVENING (2015) {*8} – split TANGERINE DREAM-style into two sides – Hebden was paid due respect when excellent reviews helped it gate-crash the pop-saturated Top 50. If one could reel back time to the late great OFRA HAZA and/or COCTEAU TWINS’ Elizabeth Frazer fantasy-fronting The ORB (the sample voice was by Indian chanter Lata Mangeshkar), then the spirited `Morning Side’ would have one hooked line and sinker. Flipped over (if one opted for vinyl), `Evening Side’ kicked into time-warp-factor gear as it transcended the 3-minute mark. Gloops and blips loomed ominously around its bass patterns, while angelic Lata (once again!) echoed its minimalist and metronomic mood changes.
On the back of working with Floating Point on Katy B’s dance-pop song, `Calm Down’ and collaborating with JAMIE XX; plus underdogs, Designer and Champion, FOUR TET dropped another round of ambient/trance/electronica for the explorative NEW ENERGY (2017) {*8}; another Top 50 breaker. Instead of a couple of long drawn-out soundscapes, there were 14 cues on board, ranging from around one to seven minutes; BOARDS OF CANADA came to mind. Two pieces that stood out from the pack were the cinematic, `Two Thousand And Seventeen’ (complete with spine-tingling hammered dulcimer) and `LA Trance’ (featuring some creative synths by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith). `Scientists’, meanwhile, body-popped each frenetic rhythm out of its socket (ditto `Planet’), whilst `SW9 9SL’ might well’ve been invited to an imaginary rave party.
Following on from a glut of single downloads (or even 12-inch grooves) in respects to `Only Human’ (featuring a NELLY FURTADO sample), `Dreamer’, `Anna Painting’, `Teenage Birdsong’, `4T Recordings’ and `Baby’ (the latter absorbed into a ELLIE GOULDING vocal), FOUR TET swam back into the ambient waters of clubland via Top 40 parent-set proposition, SIXTEEN OCEANS (2020) {*8}. Chopping and changing within the tides and turns of experimental techno, there seemed no limits to KH’s airy, wide ranging meditations. From the sprightly starting point of `School’, and continuing to race forward with dainty delights, `Romantics’, `Love Salad’ (the longest at over 7 minutes) and the spine-tingling `Insect Near Piha Beach’, Keiran had once again pushing the envelope of dance music.
© MC Strong GRD 2002-2004/AS // rev-up MCS Jul2015-Mar2020

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