Nearing 20 years as an ambassador between indie rock and dance music, Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden has winnowed down the parts that clutter up music-making itself: He declines most interviews and still trots out the same publicity photo that accompanied his 2003 breakout Rounds. But after 2009’s sumptuous There Is Love in You, he took the reins himself, releasing a flurry of albums, experiments, collaborations, and singles on his own, and now keeps up a healthy social network presence on Twitter, Snapchat, and Soundcloud. With his legacy as one of the 21st-century’s finest electronic musicians all but assured, Hebden has become more of a populist, making few distinctions between working with Burial or Skrillex, Terror Danjah or Rihanna.
His restless forward momentum and pursuit of new sounds makes every Four Tet album distinct from its predecessor. But with Four Tet’s ninth album, New Energy, Hebden does something unexpected: He revisits previous sounds. There’s the low-key warmth of 2003’s Rounds, the free jazz at the heart of 2005’s Everything Ecstatic, the friendly thump of 2012’s Pink, the sprawl of 2015’s Morning/Evening. Downtempo nodders, beatless passages that flow into big bangers—he synthesizes all this into his most accessible listen since There is Love in You.
”Alap” opens the album gently with plucked strings, alluding to its definition in Indian classical music as “prologue to the formal expression” of a raga. But as those glissading strings carry on into “Two Thousand and Seventeen,” Hebden yolks it to a beat that very closely recalls Rounds’ centerpiece, “Unspoken.” The opening third of New Energy hews to that album’s sensibilities, highlighting wistful and evocative melodies with breaks crunching beneath them. But despite Hebden’s look back, the strummed strings are more nimble here and the textures are more detailed.
Tempos notch upwards on early standout “Lush,” the gamelan-like tones and double-time…