This one left me with a mixed, kind of disappointed feeling.
Let me tell you why.
I’ll review only those tracks in which I see something positive, some potential.
excerpt from 2013 “Crush” from Beautiful Rewind by Four Tet (00:00…)
The time between the notes in the main melody line is not evenly spread, which adds an organic quality. And as you know from the Boards of Canada Review, I like it organic. These kind of logarithmic or exponential function modulating parameters (note trigger timing) could come from using Modulars, but I am sure Four Tet knows a trick or two in the software domain. In general the whole LP has a modular-y, raw, synthesizerish feel. This swims in the pool of the overall oldschool 90’s vibe, which is en vogue these days. Someone could even get an “underground warehouse-dnb-party in its afterhour” – association. It is neither good nor bad for me if I’d think strictly analytical. OK, it is actually kind of stinky, because I very often get to hear the related oldschool styles. It started to annoy me couple of months ago. Or more, can’t remember.
I continue with the track in question. The timbre of the main melody modulates with some noise-content zooming in and out, which is cool, but the loop is very limited in general. We know all the modulation pretty much after a few bars. Then sudden stop, cheesy oriental-scale female singing (01:37) with some silent reverse of the sample at the same time (not sure though)…
excerpt from 2013 “Crush” from Beautiful Rewind by Four Tet (01:33…)
Why do I mention this? This all paints a picture of some cool, fun, hip but nevertheless boring, stiff and cheesy person. Music reveals general character-structures of the producer:
- Is the producer (music) risk loving?
- How boring can a Gestalt be, which he’d release? (How boring is he/she?)
- How confident is he with it? (Overly proud or humble?)
- What kind of harmonic feel is there? (all shades of grey between anger, sadness, hopeful…)
- After listening 100 times to 90’s revival tracks, will he produce another 90’s vibe track? What does it say about his consciousness?
There are many of these little things which sum up to a bigger character-ethical picture – not necessarily of the producer or a persona, but of a vague existential feeling of life – a personal, embodied philosophy kind of thing – which becomes associated through music. Very important is: This isn’t just an theoretical post-listening analysis! I (& you?) get this feeling in real time listening to tracks!! So wether you like the general feeling or not – the impression comes pretty quick & intuitive.
I enjoy the bleeps & blaaaps wet from reverb (from 01:54 or see end of sample above). Some play in an odd-scale or not-so-quickly-obvious – scale, nice, aight. The striking flute-style-runs (01:16) are also cool, cool. But these should only be some tea-break exercises for a producer of such calibre. And remember I talk about the best tracks from the album.
excerpt from 2013 “Crush” from Beautiful Rewind by Four Tet (01:17…”striking-flute-run”)
Let’s look at Aerial. Probably my fav. on Beau. Rev.
excerpt from 2013 “Aerial” from Beautiful Rewind by Four Tet. (00:20…)
Nice drumming, african vibes going on. Different tuplets and what not. I dig that. It’s groovin’. Way too scarce in electronic pop music. The bassline is ok – timbre is a bit too oldschool for me. The synth-arppegiated melody with a nice chord beneath is surprising & great at first, but you can’t see much modulation unfolding later. So why do I like Steve Reich’s “non-modulation” then? – would be a question to myself.
excerpt from 1978 “Section I” from Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich.
It appears that there are indeed slow modulations of timbre because of the (cross-)fading of instrumental, vocal timbres and their rhythmic interlocking. The harmonies are also very pleasing. In addition I hear that the timbres of acoustic instruments are so complex they don’t need drastic modulation. I also assume that one can produce such and even more complex timbres in the electronic domain, but there is maybe a handful of producers I know that head into that direction (me included).
Midway through “Aerial” there is no reason to continue listening. Melody is left away, the bass gets more aggressive and we are confronted with these chopped lo-fi bits of a warehouse-dnb-mc shouting stuff. It continues for over 2.5 minutes so I have no fun with the rest of the track.
excerpt from 2013 “Aerial” from Beautiful Rewind by Four Tet. (03:19…)
This brings me to “Unicorn”.
excerpt from 2013 “Unicorn” from Beautiful Rewind by Four Tet. (01:30…)
Nice melodic-rhythmic interlocking over here. Maybe this Gestalt helps us a little in understanding the phenomenon of groove? There has to be a feeling of “grasping a complex interlocking”. Of course for everyone there is a different understanding/feeling of “complex”. That’s why it is hard to define groove (not to mention other problems of definition and criticism in music). The harmony is a bit too cheesy-happy for me, but it’s nice e.g. for some friends of mine and I can understand that. For me it is too straight, too easy as an evocation of a feeling. The joy of playing in the warm shallow water, flirting with girls by squirting water on them when you’re 14 or 16. Yeah I am pleasantly acquainted with this feeling, but I have other feelings of bliss nowadays. More disturbed, but at the same time deeper joy. So I’d like me a harmony for that please.
Again: I claim that all this analysis of an existential feeling of a harmony happens ad-hoc, while listening. It’s only in retrospect that I can find words for it i, if I think about the feeling I had (also while listening again and again). But while listening to “Unicorn” for the first time already, I was immediately put off by this straight-simple-happiness harmony and turned on by the bubbling groove, smooth timbre and also a little bit by the harmony.
OK, one last remark before the conclusion. Lots of people might find “Parallel Jalebi” & “Our Navigation” hauntingly beautiful. I see where this comes from. There is some emotionally-involving harmony going on, but the arrangements are very plain and loveless (for details). Boring rhythms, etc. It’s insufficient to get me hooked.
This album is a big step up from “There is Love in You” (2010), which was a boring hell of a loop and also a step up harmony-wise from “Pink” (2012), with it’s headache-inducing chunky low-end all over the tracks. But it’s also a big step backwards from the seminal releases “Pause” (2001) and “Rounds” (2003), which have groove, timbral-complexity & great melancholic harmonies. I don’t know where all this “producers getting worse with years” stuff is coming from. It is definitively a present phenomenon (see Eminem, Machinedrum, Boards of Canada, The Flashbulb, Bonobo) – they all became more accessible, more shallow across all kinds of musical properties as if they started to produce for this older generation of our parents to get them into modern music. I thought more money means you can experiment and push innovation?! This is somehow related to the stultification of pop in general. Compare the times when Aphex Twin and Mouse on Mars were MTV and Viva (German MTV pendant) stars to now, where we see Florida & David Guetta ruling the shit. The fuck happened? This job is for cultural analysts – I only wanted to give it a shout.