16 of the best ever Four Tet tracks
DJ, writer and longtime Four Tet fan JIM POE takes a deep dive into Kieren Hebden’s extensive back-catalogue.
Four Tet is one high-profile musician who deserves every bit of his massive success.
The Londoner’s prolific genius encompasses some of the wildest chopped-up beats and noise this side of Aphex Twin; and some of the loveliest ambient and “folktronica” – this part of his body of work alone a huge influence on entire genres of electronic music – and also some of the best straight-up four-to-the-floor dance tracks of recent times.
It seems no matter how experimental, jazzy or personal his music gets he finds legions of punters to eat it up, probably because he’s built up their trust by always delivering melody and epic feels along with the spacey stuff. Who else could so easily move between collaborating with cosmic-jazz great Steve Reid, Burial and Jamie xx; or between remixing Madvillain, Sia and Eric Prydz?
Last week Hebden released Randoms, an LP of tracks previously released on compilations, available at a name-your-price rate on Bandcamp. And it’s brilliant, of course. To celebrate the occasion, we thought we’d do our own compilation of some of Four Tet’s most essential work. Not an easy task, of course; Hebden’s hardly ever released a bad or even mediocre track and his discography is so breathtakingly diverse it’s hard to know where to start.
But you couldn’t go wrong with these 16 tracks – some more obvious, some more obscure, all marked by that inimitable certain something that is Four Tet. Here they are, in chronological order.
#1 Aphex Twin – Untitled (Four Tet Remix)
Hebden first stepped into the spotlight in 1999 with, appropriately enough, an audacious remix of a track by one of his heroes and biggest influences, recorded for a Warp Records 10th anniversary release.
The georgeous beatless ambience of the unnamed first track on Aphex’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II is transformed by Hebden into something strikingly different, almost unrecognisable. But that something is quite thrilling and, in hindsight, quite obviously Four Tet already fully formed, with its complex uptempo broken beats and its melancholy guitars, chimes and woodwinds.
#2 Four Tet – Untangle
Four Tet’s terrific second album, Pause, is anchored by this gem, an early instance of Hebden trying on a housey 4/4 feel with matchless results. Hebden is one of the few producers who could pull off a track so minimal and bassy, and yet so organic in feel, with what sounds like a harp providing the spine-tingling hook. Utterly hypnotic.
#3 Four Tet – Everything Is All Right
Also from Pause, this cruisy, guitar-laden tune is one of the most well-known of Four Tet’s “folktronica” output. It’s so tuneful, mellow and just nice that you could mistake it for something you’d hear on a soft-jazz radio station or a Starbucks compilation, but the brilliant broken beat and gorgeous layered synths are all Hebden.
#4 Four Tet – She Moves She
Four Tet’s 2003 album Rounds is filled with amazing tracks, but this single is especially representative of the “folktronica” style that Hebden innovated and perfected during this era. By turns jazzy, glitchy, funky and pastoral, it’s a superb construction of sound and massively influential on an entire decade of music to come.
#5 Four Tet – As Serious as Your Life (Jay Dee Remix)
Including a remix of Four Tet by another producer wasn’t initially on the agenda for this list, but this one, backing a single from 2003’s Rounds, was impossible to resist. To have the late, great Jay Dee AKA J. Dilla cut loose on a Four Tet track amounts to a minor miracle – a beautiful mind-meld of two of the millennium’s musical geniuses. And it’s no ordinary remix, with Dilla slowing the beat down and funking it up and adding his own lyrics. “J. Dilla and Four Tet – that’s serious,” he raps. Indeed.
#6 Four Tet – Smile Around the Face
Hebden lit up the midpoint of the noughties with the explosion of colourful noise that is Everything Ecstatic, somehow both his loopiest and most playful and accessible album to that point. Smile Around the Face is one of the decade’s best singles, a melodic maelstrom of broken beats, chopped-up vocals and glitched-out noise that owes as much to Kanye West as it does to Aphex Twin. The video is ace too, one of those rare music videos that’s also a great short film.
#7 Four Tet – Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions
This eight-minute epic, which forms the climax of Everything Ecstatic and is based on a peaktime sequence from Four Tet’s live sets of the era, is Hebden at his weirdest and best. The achingly gorgeous and summery synth melodies from the mostly beatless first three minutes build up to the drop of a pounding 4/4 tribal-techno kick. The day/night, whisper/shout effect is uniquely hair-raising.
#8 Madvillain – Accordion (Four Tet Remix)
Amongst all the brilliant remix work Hebden has done over the years, his EP of takes on the classic Madvillainy album is a standout for letting Four Tet be foil to the villain, MF DOOM. Accordion is one of the illest-ever verses in hip-hop history, if not all of Western poetry, and without taking a thing away from Madlib’s incomparable original track, it’s a wonder to hear it layered over one of Hebden’s funkiest and most hypnotic beats.