Available on: Text LP
Much has been made of Four Tet’s relationship with dance music, and how it’s become more obvious in the last several years – mostly through an increasingly public alignment with young labels like Hessle Audio, a session for FabricLive and a steady (or, at least, steadier than usual) schedule of 12”s on his Text label. Those who’ve followed Four Tet, however, should know all about the debt he owns dance music: despite his post-rock background through Fridge and associations with electronica, much of his early work was heavily influenced by UK garage, and in this sense, Beautiful Rewind feels like Four Tet coming full circle.
Over the last year, Four Tet seems to have been particularly captivated by the rougher side of dance music. Beautiful Rewind’s lead track, ‘Kool FM’, saw remix duty commissioned to Container, a Nashville producer who drowns techno in tape saturation and noise, and Champion, who makes raw, tribal UK Funky (the bassline on the original ‘Kool FM’, in fact, could be a Champion number). Compare the line-up of last year’s Four Tet-curated event at Brixton Academy (Floating Points, James Holden, Hessle Audio) to that of his recently-announced Village Underground event (Slimzee, Slackk, Beneath, Kyle Hall, whose recent Resident Advisor podcast was recorded to tape, and grime-loving DJ Barely Legal), and it seems that Four Tet’s been enjoying dance music’s frayed edges – be that grime or tape techno – this year.
Beautiful Rewind is peppered with references to the UK’s pirate radio music canon, mostly notably garage, grime and jungle. ‘Buchla’’s first minute effectively recreates a Riko and Slimzee Sunday afternoon show on pre-license Rinse FM, pairing a sample of – I believe – the former with a bassline sampled from a grime classic, while ‘Kool FM’’s title, MC and rewind samples speak for themselves. ‘Gong’ approaches jungle in an almost identical manner to how Burial, the archetypal ‘up late alone listening to pirate radio’ producer, approached UK garage.
Four Tet’s far from the first to sample pirate radio, of course – Slackk’s Grime Tapes mixes and later Kahn & Neek’s Gorgon Grime cassette were patchworks of radio recordings, while Paul Woolford’s Special Request alias is a public tribute to the “unsung heroes” who dedicated their lives to the format – but he’s the first I’ve heard translate them into songs so effortlessly (Burial’s music has always sounded painstakingly produced; quite the opposite of Four Tet’s). ‘Buchla’ slips seamlessly into anesthetized techno, while ‘Aerial’ feels like gliding between two different dreams. At times, it’s a 4×4 grime track, pairing Triton-style hollow bass sounds with MC samples and drums that march like an army of goblins, at others, it’s stargazing broken beat.
Of course, Beautiful Rewind is a Four Tet album, and no matter how grubby it gets, at the heart of it will always be one fact: Four Tet’s forte is making Beautiful Music. ‘Unicorn’ twinkles; ‘Parallel Jalebi’ sighs; ‘Our Navigation’ flickers like a pyre at dark. At times, it feels like these tracks – and it’s sometimes true of the album’s rougher moments, too – are more aesthetic experiments than songs in their own right: there’s certainly nothing on Beautiful Rewind with a hook as memorable as ‘Locked’, from last year’s Pink. When Four Tet hits that sweet spot between fragile beauty and gritty pirate radio music (as on the aforementioned ‘Aerial’ and ‘Buchla’, for instance) however, you really feel as if he’s onto something. He’s releasing more music than ever at this point, and the prospect of more material in this vein’s an exciting one.