Four Tet Morning/Evening

[Text; 2015]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: “a laptop computer using the Ableton Live software to control and mix VST synthesizers and manipulations of found audio recordings”
Others: Lata Mangeshkar, Floating Points, Caribou … Burial

Peculiarly enough, it’s the things that I would have expected to count in its favor, Morning/Evening’s most distinctive features, that I feel most ambivalent about. A first case: the initially quite beguiling Bollywood vocal sample — a few phrases from Lata Mangeshkar singing “Main Teri Chhoti Behana Hoon,” left here almost unadorned — dominates the first side. The first time it kicks in is the kind of moment I might say would send a shiver down your spine, if I were that kind of person who said that sort of thing; it’s a striking, memorable sample for sure, a great find, but it can’t bear the weight the song puts on it. It can’t bear being repeated ad infinitum (And ad nauseam? No wonder I’ve had it floating around my head for days.) over the course of the greater part of the song’s 20-odd minutes. As mesmerizing as it is, the sample’s overbearing, rarely manipulated presence detracts from the song’s subtler moments, the intricacy of the synths and deftness of the beats.

But it’s also the format itself: despite the many bus journeys Rounds used to soundtrack in the unearned melancholia of my younger days, I thought that Kieran Hebden’s shift towards the dancefloor suited him (maybe even more so as Percussions), and I was intrigued to see how this would end up on an album composed of just two songs — two sides — of roughly 20 minutes apiece. And appropriately enough, the first side, “Morning,” opens with a kind of hazily optimistic beat that seems to signify exactly what you’d hope for from the “rosy-fingered dawn.” But the momentum isn’t really maintained, and with the introduction of a kaleidoscopic whirl of little synthy sound-atoms and the aforementioned vocal sample, things fall in and out of the frame with a haphazard kinda feel — the length of the tracks coming off arbitrary and unmanaged. Good materials go misallocated in something that falls into an oddly inert midpoint between expansive — ambitious, calculated — composition and the open-ended thrill of extended, semi-contingent improvisation. Sean Delanty wrote last time around that Four Tet’s music has always evoked movement. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that isn’t the case on Morning/Evening; it’s just that, in the kind of timescales we’re dealing with, what movement there is doesn’t always know where it’s headed. Whole sections that might feel accomplished if taken as isolated pieces feel misplaced in the economy of these side-long tracks.

Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t segments both long and short where everything seems to be falling exactly into place. As far as my own taste is concerned, I can actually be reasonably precise about when I think they are: just before nine minutes into “Morning,” for example, there are (approx.) 30 seconds where Mangeshkar falls away and the beat complicates itself — on the point of dissolving into chaos or ramping into infinity — until it too vanishes and the ever-present vocal sample is back again. There’s also the drum-free last five minutes or so of the first side, with neatly interlocking synths reprising motifs that had emerged throughout the piece evoking relaxed kosmische and minimalist vibes. And there are the last eight minutes of “Evening,” when this side’s vocal sample (wordless and far less arresting than the first side’s, if better integrated into the instrumentation) is dropped and the synthetic chimes and bleeps slowly give way to a darker, almost martial beat, one that feels like it’s leading us away into the depths of the real night (right to where all the action is… offscreen, as it were) with a genuine sense of intent.

There’s also plenty of the warmth and clarity that has largely characterized Four Tet’s work, even — especially — emphasized in the brief moments when everything’s slightly out of joint, when the various components — the layered punctuation of ringing synths, for example — are dislocated very subtly from the beat. But again, it’s slightly paradoxical: the best parts are when things don’t quite work, the brief moments when there’s a kind of tension, a friction between the elements, even though it’s exactly that which on a larger scale translates into a lack of cohesion and direction.

Summer Solstice — which Morning/Evening is supposed to be celebrating — makes me hope for/expect/desire something more single-minded, maybe more pagan, older, and more dangerous, like bonfires and effigies or human sacrifice. Morning/Evening’s crystalline lightness of touch makes it easy to forget too that summer is also dust, hay fever, sweat dripping from every pore, the stale smell of dried piss coming out of the hot stones. Everything’s bathed in celestial fucking radiance, suffused with a tiresome warmth and glow. I feel like an ingrate for not digging every moment, but I don’t.

Links: Four Tet

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