‘0181’ is a 38 minute long continuous mixtape.
Between 1997 and 2001, Kieran Hebden was a busy man. Barely twenty, he was touring full force with his successful post-rock band Fridge, which were known for their early adoption of sampler-augmented live performances and their humble beginnings from Elliott School, the quietly powerful musical hotbed of a public school. Behind this early success he was slowly building a counter persona under which he could express his more jazz, ambient, hip-hop and meditative electronica sensibilities. Under the moniker “Four Tet,” Hebden’s work ethic and production skills would blossom to a level that continues to garner respect similar to groundbreaking UK beat makers before him both in the UK and internationally.
As it turns out, Hebden is a prolific producer. Not only has he put out seven albums as Four Tet and remixed or collaborated with an admirable amount of well respected artists both mainstream and underground, he’s got tracks lying around to boot. Take a handful of tracks from the aforementioned time period of 1997-2001, probably found under some unturned rock on Hebden’s laptop, and you’ve got a period piece diagramming his early musical underpinnings. And, laudably, it’s a win from the word go.
Four Ter’s ‘0181’ mixtape
Four Tet came into the UK beat scene about a decade after it had become the most consistent place for complex and rhythmically engaging electronica in the world. Acts like Aphex Twin, with his skittery, almost juke style avant dance approach. The Chemical Brothers were huge and known for their more rock outfitted aggressive dance music. Moby and Massive Attack were international sensations for their vocal styles over understated but challenging instrumentation. Four Tet broke into this market by advancing his own style distinct from his forebears, and ‘0181’ is exemplar of his early uniqueness. Plucked harp strings became a signature sound over 2-step break beats. Celestial keys drenched in reverb soothes the soul over muted wobbly drums. Arpeggiated synth in a major key over swing bass kicks gives a swirly meditative sentiment in place of the dancey feel of more straight ahead house infused beats.
This newest release being a smorgasbord of unreleased material, there is a distinct sketchbook feel to how it progresses. But this only furthers the sense that Four Tet hits his stride best when allowed to reach across a huge musical spectrum. Ever the ambitious one, his taste is impeccable. He has an excellent sense of depth in his music, never sludging too thickly or skimping away too lightly. And his music is FRESH, then and now. Where Aphex Twin had more glitch and avaunt-guard appeal, Four Tet carries a greater focus on keeping at least a smidge of accessible melody in each track. Where Moby and Massive Attack each projected emotive vocals out onto the listener, Four Tet is happy to sit back and let the space in between the notes carry the weight of the musical impact. ‘0181’ moves on from beginning to end as though a notebook for a writer who is annotating quotes, thoughts, and moments of impact he experiences as he works on accumulating greater identity. That these sketches vibe as well as any of his previously released material only goes to show how well aligned all of Four Tet’s music is to his musical ideals. And his ideals, his ambitions, are found in this sketchbook.
For his efforts, the music Four Tet was putting in the early 2000’s was tagged “Folktronica” by music reviewers at the time. This is more understandable if taken relative to most other electronic musicians of the age. Where most electronic music of the time dripped of the rave scene with energetic delivery as its M.O., Four Tet maintains a more even keel and produces a more emotionally rich and introspective sound. Hebden seems more like your token chill friend, with a greater penchant for producing sheepish, unassuming grins than coming out with words to get his point across. One could imagine him coming over to your place and bringing his new kalimba he just picked up at a garage sale just to show you and to screw around with it. Kalimba? Yeah, he likes it, put it in the sketchbook. It’ll go great on top of the Steve Reid record he was listening to on the way to your place, you know the one with Miles Davis floating. Unassuming through and through, he has a do-it-yourself spirit and seems ready at all times to expand his musical acumen. It’s only natural that he tinker, lest he waste the day away! How would you produce such a large amount of music otherwise? And to keep it fresh always, he reaches across all instruments and styles. This form of compositional ADD became the contemporary standard for electronic music in the 15 years since he hit the scene. But this wide variety of sounds notwithstanding, he manages to attain a very rich but accessible music, less like house, dub, or techno and more akin in its general passivity with the humility of folk or smoothness of downtempo bop.
This record is for anyone who has dug on Four Tet at any time in his career, but it must be duly noted that this record is less house and trance than subsequent material, and it’s got a bit more of an organic feel to it. If that’s your bag, check it out. The record plays out like an old friend for someone who fell into listening to this beat master during his youthful emergence, and frankly it deserves attention in any Four Tet collection.
Written by Case Newsom
[This new mix tape can be streamed and downloaded @ https://soundcloud.com/four-tet/0181-1]