“Sixteen Oceans” adds a modern flare to Four Tet’s IDM formula, but takes a few steps back while still progressing forward.
By Gavin Majeski
Kieran Hebden, better known as Four Tet, returns with his latest record, “Sixteen Oceans.” Since his 2017 release, “New Energy,” Hebden dropped single after single in 2019. Out of the five solo tracks Hebden released that year, “Teenage Birdsong” was the only one that made it onto his newest record. The track features a predominant flute melody with lightly buzzing synths and trap flavored high hats and claps. The single was a good taster for what was to come on the record with its modern hip-hop influences.
Hebden has never shied away from creating old school hip-hop flavored house and IDM tracks, as seen best on his 2003 record, “Rounds.” This time on “Sixteen Oceans” we see Hebden utilize the heavy bass, kick drums, hi hats and claps found in modern trap music. Tracks such as the aforementioned “Teenage Birdsong” along with “School,” “Romantics,” “Love Salad” and “Insect Near Piha Beach” all utilize these common thematic elements found in the current hip-hop landscape.
Hebden combines these themes with heavy synths and digitized textures on the tracks “Green,” “4T Recordings” and “Something in the Sadness.” The aforementioned track along with “Love Salad” and “Baby” are throwbacks to Hebden’s house influenced works, with “Baby” containing emphatic grooves and catchy vocals from Ellie Goulding.
Another common element found within “Sixteen Oceans” is a frequent harpsichord that can be heard on the tracks “Harpsichord,” “Insect Near Piha Beach” and “Romantics.” The harpsichord choice helps establish a natural atmosphere on the album but isn’t fully developed due to the interlude tracks on the record. ”Hi Hello,” “ISTM” and “Bubbles at Overlook 25th March 2019” are short interludes that don’t contain enough meat to add to the album.
“1993 Band Practice” is the only exception to this by transitioning well into the next song and featuring a unique sample reminiscent of a basketball bouncing. “Hi Hello” and “ISTM” in particular are placed one after the other and do nothing for the record except warrant a skip.
Continuing these faults we have a lackluster finale with “This Is for You” and “Mama Teaches Sanskrit.” Both contain skeletal instrumentals that feel drained of all elements that made the previous tracks so great. Even though the record doesn’t end on a high note, the vast majority of tracks are some of Hebden’s best and the interludes are short enough to not ruin the listening experience.
By blending modern trap flavors with natural soundscapes, Hebden creates an atmospheric record unique to its current time.
Favorite Tracks: School, Baby, Harpsichord, Teenage Birdsong, Romantics, Love Salad, Insect Near Piha Beach, Something in the Sadness, 1993 Band Practice, Green, 4T Recordings