Is 2013 going to be the year of stealth mode? First David Bowie sneaked out a new single — his first new music in a decade — with no advance notice, neatly sidestepping the music industry’s dreadfully boring controlled-leak model (in which details as to cover art, featured cameos, and tracklistings are treated as major news events, and every announcement merits its own pre-announcement).
Now Four Tet (Kieran Hebden) has up and dropped a brand-new album on an unsuspecting public. Early this morning, Hebden tweeted, “I am going to release a new Four Tet LP today”; an hour later, the object in question, 0181, was up on SoundCloud, and for free download at that.
The 38-minute mini-album contains previously unreleased material produced between 1997 and 2001 — that is, from two years before Four Tet’s debut LP, Dialogue, until the year of its follow-up, Pause. Put together by Hebden in 2012, it’s structured loosely as a mixtape, with discrete tracks joined by ambient sketches and knotty beat preludes. The SoundCloud download is one long track, but enterprising discographers can easily insert their own track breaks with standard audio-editing software. It breaks down into roughly 22 or 23 pieces, but part of the album’s pleasure is they way they tangle up and flow into each other. As a commenter on SoundCloud so vividly puts it, “When I was little – in the summer months – I would scoop up wind-borne ‘snowflake’ seeds, clasp them gently between both hands, make a wish, and blow them back up into the sky. This is that moment. It is wishes and wind.”
On first listen, one of the most surprising things about 0181 is how closely it gels with what Hebden is doing now, despite the music’s vintage. In line with his early releases, hip-hop-inspired breakbeats tend to edge out the club rhythms of house and techno, but the opening track is a flickering 2-step jam in the vein of last year’s “Jupiters” or “Ocoras,” and towards the end there’s a thumping broken-beat workout that could easily bring Fabric’s Room 1 to its knees. (Sadly, it’s just over a minute long; Mr. Hebden, would an extended edit on an upcoming Text Records 12-inch be too much to ask for? Perhaps with a Levon Vincent remix?) Throughout, Hebden’s long-time obsessions are everywhere — harps, African percussion, jazz drumming, bird song, the chiming timbres of Rhodes keys and Metheny-style guitars — reinforcing a sense of continuity across his entire career. Play 0181 alongside last year’s Pink, and it’s clear that he’s been carving away at the same rich vein for 15 years, yielding rough-cut gems of a remarkably consistent quality. With the upcoming reissue of Hebden’s Rounds this year to mark his breakout album’s 10-year anniversary, it couldn’t be a more timely reminder.
A vinyl version is on the way “soon”; for now, stream or download the album below.