I’d bought a great big pile of potentials to our previous session and talked through them all while introducing what I did play, unwittingly giving myself a big selection to choose from for this session, but as the weeks passed and turned into months since we last met, life took over, and the pile, which I’d left out as an aide memoire, got tidied away. Luckily Rob suggested that we’d talked about Four Tet, because it was record club and he’s a name that comes up onerously often, which gave me an excuse to play his beautiful new record, which I don’t think had quite been released when we last met.
When the title and track listing was announced back in the spring I immediately imaged what I wanted this record to sound like. The primary clue? It consists of only two tracks, each 20-ish minutes long, and they are called “Morning Side” and “Evening Side”. My hope was that Kieran Hebden had made something veering towards an ambient record, perhaps following the lead of the lovely, Eno-esque “Peace for Earth” from Pink. And you know what? He kind of has.
While there’s arguably slightly more ‘substance’ to this than some ambient records – it can and does reward close attention, and you could even dance to it relatively easily if you so wished – it is a decidedly low key affair nonetheless, and very happy to sit quietly in a room whilst you do other things, occupying the purpose of ambient music if not, precisely, the genre.
Hebden has talked about this record as being partially about embracing his family heritage following his grandmother dying in 2013, and the manipulated sample of Indian soundtrack singer Lata Mangeshkar that winds its way beautifully through “Morning Side”, although comparable to some similar vocal samples he’s used in the past, definitely feels like something new in his repertoire. It also feels entirely logical and comfortable.
“Morning Side” has received most praise in reviews and discussion that I’ve seen, but it might be “Evening Side” that I like best; its start is even more low-key than “Morning Side”, and it remains in this beatific state of quietude for some considerable time, before, during the final seven minutes or so, all the vocals, synths, and delicate loops fade away, leaving just a pulsing, hip-hop-ish, club-friendly drum track, which reminds me of the ecstatic John Stanier beats that close out the title track on The Fields’ excellent Yesterday and Today.
Morning/Evening is a very warm and beautiful record; to me it feels like a high point of Four Tet’s remarkably consistent catalogue, up there with There Is Love In You and Rounds. I can’t offer much in the way of critical analysis of it beyond saying that it’s a lovely thing to behold.
Rob listened: It’s a lovely record. A couple of weeks before this meeting, I’d had a week of long hours at work, hours in which I needed to get lost in some of the stuff I had to do. I found myself reaching for this album on Spotify and it worked a treat. It’s soothing, vitalising, warm and tender. I listened to it half a dozen times or more and it worked at any level of focus or attention. It’s also a beguilingly simple and natural-sounding music. This being Spotify I ended up letting it run and taking in large parts of Hebden’s discography back to the last record I bought, ‘There Is Love In You’. I loved what I heard, full of variety, equally gorgeous and scabrous, wide-ranging and exploratory and, in the background or the foreground, intoxicating. It really helped.
Tom listened: Nick seems to be in a rich vein of form at the moment for unveiling beautifully constructed music that soothes and caresses and envelopes in a kind of musical security blanket…nothing too challenging here but certainly very enjoyable to spend time with.
I thought the parallels with In a Silent Way were evident – two long tracks, the second building to an obvious crescendo having teased us with its restraint over the course of the previous 15 or so minutes. Some albums are so frequently misappropriated that you feel that the last thing the world needs is another album that sounds similar yet lesser. In a Silent Way is not one of them…and, anyway, Kieran Hebden has really only echoed the structure of that record; the music on Morning/Evening sounds all his own.