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Review: Four Tet Lets the Light Win on the Brightly Raga-Tinged ‘Morning/Evening’

Four Tet
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: June 21, 2015
Label: Text

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. He won’t do interviews, which suits a guy who’s currently making the best music of his life with nary a vocalist in sight.

Thus he gets to Beyoncé us with an album like Morning/Evening whenever he feels like; it was slated for a mid-July release when Hebden probably realized he was bored and had no press cycle to wait for, thus it appeared on his Bandcamp for sale on Sunday evening. This is, after all, the same guy who preceded 2013’s lovingly claustrophobic Beautiful Rewind with the Chuck D-esque disclaimer that there would be (sic) “no pre order, no youtube trailers, no itunes stream, no spotify, no amazon deal, no charts, no bit coin deal, no last minute rick rubin.”

To which you can now add, “No track divisions”: Morning/Evening consists of two 20-minute pieces, titled, duh, “Morning Side” and “Evening Side.” It’s a page from his other buddy Will Bevan’s lone gunman creed. Despite rumors that you’ve never seen them in the same studio together, Burial’s heartbreakingly distant evocations strictly appear on the other side of the rain puddle, while Hebden, onetime peddler of so-called “folktronica,” and purveyor of titles like There Is Love in You and (ROFL) “Spirit Fingers,” couldn’t be “dark” if he drove a Batmobile. To wit: Burial never collaborated with someone named Princess Watermelon on a song called “Go Go Ninja Dinosaur” for children.

So Morning/Evening significantly puts more of its bid into “Morning Side,” a good thing, since there’s no lack of nighttime techno. In a rare dependence on a sung vocal, it samples Lata Mangeshkar’s 1983 “Main Teri Chhoti Behana Hoon” from the Indian film Souten, and provides somewhat of a context for the album being classified by time of day like traditional ragas. The overarching snatch of the Mangeshkar tune appears and reappears over the course of 20 minutes, but the track doesn’t evolve like 2011’s almost clubby minimalist throwdown “Pyramid,” which aggressively rode a pitched-down voice sample intoning “I remember how you walked away” until the wheels fell off.

“Morning Side” wobbles slightly in place, as Hebden’s proto-electronic, old-Macintosh bloops parachute onto the sample, occasionally missing the beat and making the soothing jarring instead. Running his “found” sounds through Ableton Live, it’s entirely possible that the track turned out this way because it was being constructed in real time. The studied awkwardness of the track’s fight from one segment to the next recalls the longer suites of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch or the motionless accumulations of Emeralds’ Does It Look Like I’m Here? more than anything by his fellow Elliott School Rat-Packers Smith or Bevan. Of the three, he’s the one who only came closest to making a pop song when Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed blew up his phone.

Thus, only a fridge would be caught humming along with the vaccumed-up synths on “Evening Side,” which goes on to shed more skins than the first half, one of them eventually utilizing a more classical-sounding filmi sample as well. The closest it comes to the dark of the dusk, though, is letting all the color drain from the odyssey until only its piston-like drum loop perseveres as the album closes. Let him get weird; his obscure, Japan-only CD of attempted rave anthems Pink and the pirate radio-influenced Beautiful Rewind itself resulted in two of the most downright amazing albums of the 2010s.

Morning/Evening is beautiful in its own right, if you’re patient. Hebden took a dry run at more inert ambience as Percussions for a couple standout singles last year, but this 40-minute album is more ambitious. Think of it as his Rival Dealer; no longer showing off his arrestingly, jaggedly inventive palette of noises and unique angles at which to deploy them, Hebden strove to emulate aural peace, with Songza-like suggestions on when his flitterings would best pair with your life activities. He might as well have called it Moscato/Merlot.