Four Tet, aka Kieran Hebden, has been a busy boy this year, he's already released a 16 track album, Sixteen Oceans, as well as the 4T Recordings EP and Baby single. Earlier in the year Hebden teamed up with Thom York and Burial to collaborate on the singles Her Revolution and His Rope and he's already got work planned in the pipeline with Madlib for Sound Ancestors. As if that were not enough for one year Kieran decided to drop not one but two new albums simultaneously on Christmas Day.
The new Four Tet albums are titled Parallel and 871. Both are over an hour long and both are equally unique. Parallel is a ten track sonic exploration that starts with an epic 26m46s track, Parallel 1. The quite magnificent audible beauty that Kieran Hebden has created is something to behold. Hebden takes you through gentle undulations and delicately shifting patterns, subtly changing the direction and rhythm with a deft, gossamer touch.
The ambient nature of Parallel 1 makes for an easy listen with it's extended and stretched notes and it's limited use of any vocal intrusion. The hum of the music and the gently unfolding soundtrack are at times hypnotic. Parallel 2, as well as Parallel 8, moves the beat up a few notches and is more dance oriented whilst still maintaining a vague ambient core. This is more Bonobo territory than Brian Eno. Parallel 4 touches on similar ground with it's deep bass beats, high keys and occasional backing vocal whilst Parallel 6 is an altogether lighter, percussively structured track with almost no bass line at all.
The album is closed out by Parallel 10, the final half of which is akin to a light arrangement of free form Jazz played out on the piano. The mixture of musical textures that have been employed across Parallel alone are impressive but when you couple that with his previous work, and the other album that he released on the same day, you can't help but be blown away.
871 is a very different album to Parallel. The 20 track album, numbered sequentially from 0000 871 0001 through to 0000 871 0020, is still largely instrumental and very experimental but veers more towards the use of conventional instrumentation. At times Four Tet's album even sounds post-industrial in nature. Track one could be Einstürzende Neubauten and track three could be Donovan, the album is not one that you could pin down easily but it's all the better for it. On 871 tracks range from 18 seconds (A sequence of chiming bells) to over nine minutes (A post-apocalyptic soundscape full of static). Some are arresting and some are mild and comforting (0060) but all are creative and different. Parts of 871 are like listening to noises from space (0019), you could even be forgiven for thinking '0014' featured the Clangers whilst other tracks, including 0016, are quite orchestral (In an industrial noise kinda way!)
With 871 and Parallel Kieran Hebden has created two distinctly different, very individual albums that are both challenging and rewarding to listen to. The sonic journey that Hebden takes you on is never predictable and is almost always inspirational and forward thinking. Hebden is not an artist that is comfortable in one place for long and with his latest releases he has once again pushed things ahead with his experimental explorations in music.