There were few albums released in 2017 with more accurate titles than Kieran Hebden, AKA Four Tet’s New Energy. Hebden is a veteran of the UK electronic music scene and has been releasing music for almost two decades now. He is an artist who’s always had a finger on the pulse of the current moment, and has proved versatile enough to combine influences from many different corners of the UK bass scene and beyond.
But he’s been on a bit of a downturn ever since There is Love in You, his fantastic 2010 album that fused elements of microhouse, IDM and minimal techno. As a bit of an aside, I actually reviewed There is Love in You for a piece of GCSE English coursework seven years ago, which shows just how long it’s been since the man’s last great album. And here I still am writing record reviews!
New Energy is easily Hebden’s best record in the presiding seven years and feels, true to that title, like a breath of fresh air in his discography. It is an electronic record that feels wonderfully organic despite being entirely composed on a laptop in Ableton Live: Hebden conjures all manner of harps, flutes and lutes purely through presets and sample manipulation, and puts together ambitious microhouse tunes that build to stirring emotional climaxes.
Right off the bat is the divinely chill ‘Two Thousand and Seventeen’, which constructs a laid-back hip-hop groove from bass, handclaps and a Japanese koto harp. ‘Lush’ is exactly as its title suggests, with spacious basslines and a simple but beautiful melody played on something this album’s Bandcamp page tells me is called a hang drum. Another side note – I’ve just spent half an hour watching videos of people playing hang drums on Youtube and highly recommend others do the same. Mesmerising.
In between the longer songs are short, one to two minute interludes which are a nice change of pace, and give the record a tidy structure. Tunes like ‘Tremper’ and ‘Falls 2’ set the tone for the songs that follow them, and provide brief snippets of prettiness in their own right.
But the meat of the album is in the lengthier songs such as album centrepiece ‘SW9 9SL’ (the postcode for the O2 Academy in Brixton, which surely holds some significance for Hebden). This one is a glorious slice of wide-eyed microhouse – a moment of panoramic psychedelia to soundtrack the end of a rave, and followed by the fuzzy comedown of the next five tracks, which provide a more ambient conclusion to the record.
New Energy has a real arc to it, but the reason for its greatness is ultimately very simple. It just contains some of the best house and techno songs of the year, written with plenty of imagination, feeling, and yes – energy. It is laid back but joyfully ecstatic in places, deceptively simple and compulsively listenable in almost any circumstance. And certainly among the best albums of 2017.