Sixteen Oceans (2LP)

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Four TetSKU: TEXT051

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By the end of the 2010s, Kieran Hebden had become a hotter property in clubland than ever, playing headlining sets at every major club and festival imaginable, and releasing inescapable tracks such as "Question" and "Only Human." While both of those cuts were simply credited to the initials KH, his material as Four Tet has continued to encompass atmospheric dance tracks as well as downtempo meditations and ambient experiments. 2017's New Energy was by far one of his most accessible releases, while still demonstrating an impressively wide range of his talents, and was received enthusiastically. Sixteen Oceans is similarly eclectic, but it skews much closer towards abstract pieces and field recording-based interludes than its predecessor. Hebden can still spin gold out of a simple drum machine beat and a pretty, sophisticated melody, as evidenced by opener "School" and the sparkling "Something in the Sadness." Tracks like the fantastic "Insect Near Piha Beach" attest to his undying devotion to U.K. club culture yet are as far from formulaic genre exercises as possible. Perhaps the album's most attention-grabbing tune is "Baby," a dreamy thumper featuring chopped-up vocals by Ellie Goulding. In some ways, it's like a more introspective sibling of "Only Human," Hebden's Nelly Furtado-sampling club hit. The track pauses in the middle for a sample of gentle birdsong, and similarly relaxing nature sounds pop up throughout the album, from gorgeous downtempo tracks like "Romantics" to brief pieces such as "ISTM" and "Bubbles at Overlook 25th March 2019." Ending the album is "Mama Teaches Sanskrit," which consists of rippling bells and the language lesson implied by the track's title, concluding with a calm mantra of "Shanti, Shanti." A little bit of a diversion from past Four Tet releases, Sixteen Oceans feels like Hebden is taking a moment to stop and reflect on his family, his environment, music culture, and everything else that made him who he is.

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