Four Tet – “New Energy” (Electronic, Downtempo, Ambient)
Armed with only a MIDI keyboard, a DAW and his signature lackadaisical style, Four Tet’s 2017 return displays a downtempo collage of era-spanning electronic head bobbers.
Kieran Hebden has had his finger on the electronic scene’s pulse for well over two decades, consistently creating above adequate, relaxed, molasses-like beats through means of sampling, production and collaboration. Yet in 2017 he returns to his laid-back, perceptible panache. By straying just below an hour, “New Energy” sufficiently provides a sonic fade from Hebden’s earlier career, the future of his sound and everything in-between.
Songs such as “Two Thousand and Seventeen” or “Lush” feature these gently plucked mandolins, which are reminiscent of songs from his 2003 album “Rounds” (specifically “Spirit Fingers” and “My Angel Rocks Back And Forth”). The concept of a single instrument being reused on an album 14 years later seems rather dry, yet by not allowing this instrument to take too much of a grip on the track, it is used more as a selective tool – Like that of a dash of salt, or the blade from a Swiss army knife.
The tracks then open to the listener audible proof of Four Tet’s sound collage thought process. The penultimate track “Daughter/Gentle Soul” could best be described as a twilight river ambiance having “Massive Attack” cover, with “DJ Shadow” — like chopped vocal samples infused alongside the heavily edited percussion line. Lasting for just over six minutes, this pairing of songs is expertly contrasted by the closer, “Planet.”
Driving the track is a deep-house rhythm that jerks you back and forth, with no fear of you being simultaneously shaken (not stirred) by the inaudible, whirling vocals. Once the beat metamorphizes into a busy hodge-podge of kick drums and synthesizer pads, it begins to grow and unfurl the noticeable styles that influence most Tet projects. “Planet” is a song that not only shows what Kieran is capable of creating, but also his talent to recreate an already existing sound and make it his own.
With a career spanning long enough to legally rent an automobile, Four Tet is not one to pride an ever-unique regime. Plenty of his work ranges from sounds of new-age house music to “Aphex Twin” albums that outdate his own vocation. Regardless of who has made similar sounding work, “New Energy,” despite the name, is a genius expression of Hebden’s own strive to create a clear and identifiable audio signature, that would be approved internationally onto any foot-tapping, hip-pulsating electronic beat-tape.
Bell Witch – “Mirror Reaper” (Ambient, Metal)
Another odd choice for one of the subjectively “best albums of 2017,” here’s a single song lasting 90 minutes. Encased is a waft of morbid tranquility, amplified from the popular elements of post-rock meeting with beautifully mixed dark ambient.
The album’s genre is classified as “funeral doom,” which makes sense considering that the standalone song on the record feels almost like a funeral. Like a participant in a funeral service, you must respect what is taking place, but the song lasts far too long and could have been greater if it was shorter.
Although the run-time seems daunting, there is still plenty to highlight. Specific time signatures would just complicate the listening process, relying on key moments to get excited. Within the confines of the album resides a very strong “post-rock” influence, a genre known for its ambient textures, while remaining underneath the “rock” genre umbrella. This atmosphere eventually combines theatrically slow percussion and keyboards with hints of monotone vocals that sound as if they are being expunged from a corpse’s dying breath.
Through a diverse range spanning the length of a normal funeral service, the listener is thrown into an ambiance of drudging sonics, gigantically triumphant to solemnly miniscule electric guitar riffs and at one point even clean human vocals. With the gigantism of the run-time, paired with the artistically daunting cover art –not to mention the album’s sound – “Mirror Reaper” proves to be a challenging but worthwhile listen for those who are patient enough to digest it.
Forest Swords – “Compassion” (Instrumental, Hip-Hop, Downtempo)
If you took a 1990s boom-bap hip hop producer, flew him to Nepal and let him live among the locals, sampling their native instruments and making tribal bangers, “Compassion” would likely be the end result. Matthew Barnes’ sophomore album revolves around a signature dub sound, one that would be hard pressed to find in his hometown of Liverpool.
In an album where lyrics are about as sparse as the landscapes that the production paints, clanging metallic drums and granulated synthesizers are Barnes’ melodic focus throughout. Song titles such as “The Highest Flood” and “Sjurvival” accurately express this constant feeling of conflict.
The cover portrays Barnes himself under a large boulder, an image which is synonymous with the overall sound of “Compassion” – an overwhelming weight that pressures you to focus in on the details to overcome a regular music experience. The short bursts of seemingly conventional hip-hop production are the few breaths of air to keep you beating through this visceral plunderphonic plateau.
For an enjoyable listening experience that isn’t plagued by abstract noises and ambient samples, focus on the songs “Panic” and “Raw Language” for a taste of the album. Between these mostly normal sounding songs are excellently sequenced interludes, as well as pleasant instrumentals that spew charisma and style.
Rem Jensen can be reached at email@example.com