Four Tet is a very well-loved figure in electronic music: Kieran Hebden’s mixture of earthy textures and mellow club beats has made him a household name, and the homely consistency of his presence has allowed people to politely overlook his slight creative stagnation. The sound is a calling card but also now a comfort zone, and he hasn’t put out a truly remarkable album since 2009’s There Is Love In You.
Sixteen Oceans is a characteristically chilled, thoughtful affair, filled with track titles – Bubbles At Overlook 25th March 2019, 1993 Band Practice – that make it feel more like a soundtrack to a scrapbook. Lead single Baby coasts along with chopped up Ellie Goulding vocals (is she singing a cover of Jaheim’s Just In Case?), and feels a bit bland until the breakdown adds some much-needed poignancy.
Love Salad takes things into more clubby territory, trancey synths on top of a shimmying beat, while School delves into minimalism with a plinky synth sequence cutting in and out of the otherwise skeletal track. Throughout the record there are sizeable pauses between songs, 10 seconds or more, perhaps giving one time to contemplate the significance of what they’ve heard or break into spontaneous applause.
Insect Near Piha Beach is a definite highlight, hard-hitting tech house giving way to a cascading plucked melody that feels instantly euphoric. This track, along with Only Human released under the KH moniker last year, is exactly the type of current, exciting sound that Four Tet should indulge in more often, and it’s certainly preferable to the glut of unmemorable ambient numbers that make up the final 15 minutes.
There is more of interest on Sixteen Oceans than on 2017’s New Energy, and there is certainly nothing here that’s outright bad, but Four Tet is still stuck in something of an artistic rut.