From the melodic sweep of Rounds to the syncopated jazz/dance vibe of There Is Love in You, we’ve come to expect the unexpected from Kieran Hebden, a.k.a. Four Tet. Upon first listen, Beautiful Rewind implies a somewhat anticipated backward glance. Four Tet, however, is a contextual project, gathering and collecting as it mutates, birthed from its previous incarnation, but transformed by its environment, so that any homage to the past escapes mawkishness.
The album is a meticulous piece-by-piece search through the sounds of British pirate radio, with oozy U.K. grime, Hebden’s beloved garage, and funky jungle all serving as a backdrop for the artist’s signature experimentation. The music is still lightly layered over the jazz and devotional styles recognizable in the Four Tet canon, but influences from his more recent work and interests are also apparent: There’s an unmistakable Syrian dabke sound on tracks like “Parallel Jalebi” and “Crush,” while “Kool FM” includes the grime-infused dance music of DJs Barely Legal and Kyle Hall. The ease with which former and current influences are combined speaks to the effect of pirate radio, and is the key to elevating Beautiful Rewind above mere empty nostalgia for ’90s dance music.
Beautiful Rewind is a reminder that Four Tet’s music is as much a listening experience as it is one that compels you to move. The album’s dance-heavy tracks are grouped together, with “Kool Fm” being the pivot upon which the rest of the album balances. The song is immediately followed by “Crush,” a writhing twist of electronica, beautiful in its own mutable fashion.
Hebden’s strength has always been his intimate understanding of what moves us, literally and figuratively. Even though Beautiful Rewind is a call to dance music’s past, it’s the contemporary, more experimental sounds that establish the album as a standout in both the Four Tet oeuvre and a growing collection of dance albums that pay homage to the past.