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Four Tet Vividly Imagines Future Dance Floors on ‘Beautiful Rewind’

The cover of Four Tet's 'Beautiful Rewind'
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: October 04, 2013
Label: Text

At some point in late 2010 or early 2011, Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden found himself in the studio alongside Thom Yorke and Burial for their joint “Ego” / “Mirror” single. Both these collaborators had exemplified how to present music without a middleman: Yorke and Radiohead initially self-released 2007’s pay-what-you-like album In Rainbows, while the shadowy entity behind Burial had eschewed a web presence altogether to keep the focus solely on his music. (Not that it kept rumors and conspiracy theories from swirling that Burial and Four Tet were actually the same guy.) So it makes sense that the ethos of both men wore off on Hebden, who has since stepped away from Domino, his label for the past decade, to self-release Beautiful Rewind with little fanfare.

Much like Pink, last year’s invigorating collection of recent jungle, techno, and 2-step-indebted singles, Beautiful Rewind shows Four Tet shifting toward experimental dance music rather than elegantly crafted, album-length, indie-approved electronica, perhaps never to return. Quickly working 11 tracks into 40 minutes, the album is visceral and unrefined, two qualities not often associated with Hebden. Opener “Gong” brings to mind his preference for spiritual jazz, but the track itself is a garbled, 160-BPM jungle beat shot through with chiming percussion and a guitar lick, the vocal snippet gruff rather than graceful. Elsewhere, “Kool FM” explicitly shouts out the influential, jungle-affiliated pirate radio station.

Other aspects of Rewind are more familiar: One of Four Tet’s telltale female voices floats across the stuttering synth-and-drum tick of “Parallel Jalebi,” only to mutate as the voice crosses over onto the tighter kick of “Our Navigation,” bumping up against a brusque DJ vocal. Ebb and flow — the motion between songs that is paramount to DJ sets — becomes Four Tet’s operating paradigm here. What scans at first as a group of curiously short songs instead takes on the shape of suites, of elements and voices moving in and out of one another and forming new arrays. The flute and electronics of “Crush” flutter like a butterfly, before Hebden backspins into the tough ragga vocals of both “Buchla” (name-checking the early synthesizer developer) and “Ariel.”

Even amid these raw vocals and brute drum hits, bits of shimmering tones start to bob up in the mix, leading us into the hushed last seven minutes of the album. Both the effortlessly gorgeous “Unicorn” and the minor keys of “Your Body Feels” evoke Aphex Twin, who in the ’90s was similarly fascinated both with the early electronic abstractions of Tod Dockstader and the gnarled sound of U.K. jungle. It hints at what beauty might await Four Tet going forward, regardless of who might inspire him to search for it.