The name “Four Tet” holds quite a bit of weight in electronic circles. Even as his more recent work has been met with (perhaps unfairly) mixed responses, the UK producer has long-since solidified himself as an instantly recognizable voice within the realm of so-called “IDM” and adjacent genres. Four Tet’s music, while still being directly influenced by electronic dance music convention, has always been fairly subdued in nature, generally more suited to the living room than to the dance floor. This has been growing all the more true in recent years, with Four Tet’s approach to production becoming progressively more of a stripped-down variety. With his newest single “Planet,” Four Tet takes this minimalist approach to production, and applies it to a whole assortment of the various musical tropes he’s explored throughout his career.
Four Tet, particularly early in his career, would often set his method of low-key electronic music production apart from that of his peers via his seamless implementation of heavy influences from and elements of folk music. “Folktronica” may still seem like a uselessly niche term, but it became accepted critical nomenclature, and if anyone was worthy of the descriptor (at least for a time throughout the 2000s) it was Four Tet. Much of the man’s work from this decade has strayed from that folk influence, focusing more on jazz influences and, more frequently, simply exploring deeper into different forms of electronic music.
Recently he’s added to his stylistic repertoire some fleeting influences from South Asian and East Asian traditional music, although he never seemed to truly incorporate these influences into his work past the surface level; it felt a bit like a gimmick. But now with “Planet,” not only has Four Tet found a way to integrate these trace influences from various takes on Asian musical tradition, he has done so in tandem with folk, making “Planet” the first example of Four Tet creating genuine “folktronica” in quite some time.
The track opens with the echo-laden 4/4 thumping that one expects from microhouse (the genre within which Four Tet has been working as of late), but almost immediately a soft layer of (what sounds like) xylophone is added beneath the beat; the cold mechanical feeling of the rhythm track meshes surprisingly well with the warm tone of the xylophone. It is upon this subdued combo of sounds that “Planet’s” defining musical feature comes into play in the form of string instrument sample that sounds like a great deal like a plucked Guzheng. It should be noted that it is probably disingenuous to suggest that Four Tet’s use of this instrument truly solidifies a proper “influence” from any one Asian musical tradition so much as a vague intimation towards something “Eastern sounding,” but whether or not this string plucking can or should be regarded an authentic influence from any form of Asian music (as opposed to just the suggestion of such), it certainly feels at the very least musically appropriate, and adds a great deal to the track in the way of personality and overall warmth. This distinct feeling of “warmth” -which manages to be a defining aspect of Four Tet’s music within whatever genre he approaches- is what has long set Four Tet apart from other producers working in the same circles; so much of IDM, microhouse, ambient techno, and myriad surrounding genres has an obsession with the intensely mechanical and cerebral, and while there’s nothing inherently negative about such an approach, Four Tet’s frequent implantation of something distinctly “natural”-sounding into IDM’s regular mechanicalness allows for a welcome break from the cold. If ever the likes of Autechre or Luke Vibert, however fantastic they may be, start to feel mechanical to the point of being alienating, Four Tet is always there to ground the listener back in organic reality. “Planet” is as creative and as quality of an example of this unique sense of grounded warmth as anything in his career, and it makes one genuinely excited about the immediate future of Four Tet’s music for the first time in years. If there is an album in the works, and “Planet” is any indication of what will be going into that album, it will be a release worth watching out for.
“Planet” available now on Four Tet’s Soundcloud: