Kieran Hebden wins Secret Santa.

Artwork by Jason Evans — Source

All things considered, 2020 was looking like a good year in music for Kieran Hebden, better known as Four Tet. After putting out Sixteen Oceans earlier in March, as well as an ongoing 24-hour livestream of tunes, I’d say he had done more than his fair share at helping us through the monotony of life in a pandemic.

And then on the 25th December, almost out of nowhere, came not one but two albums – Parallel & 871 – the latter currently only available on Bandcamp.

Parallel picks up in many ways where the last record left off, gently soothing in an almost transient state. The opener “Parallel 1” clocks in at an almighty 27 minutes and sets a lot of the groundwork of what’s to follow. An array of synths pulse, swell and shimmer across the track – at times fading into periods of near-silence. It’s sparse, but ebbs and flows in a way that means it never outstays its welcome.

Listeners are almost rewarded for their patience with the following track “Parallel 2” which features the first discernible beat on the record. The fact Hebden can keep listeners in wait for nearly half an hour before the slightest suggestion of a head-nod, is testament to what he’s achieved as an artist. Tracks like this one, along with “Parallel 4” & “Parallel 8”, are arguably the most accessible on the album for those already familiar with his work. But to get the most out of this one, it really benefits from a front-to-back listen. It’s almost a disservice to pull any of these tracks apart from their supporting peers.

It’d be a crime not to mention “Parallel 6” – one of the stand-out tracks for me on the album. What starts with a fairly unassuming melodic-chime soon builds in layers, gently cascading and collapsing in on itself amidst a distant whirl of voices. It’s wonderfully percussive, and cuts through some of the more bass-lead moments in the record.

Whilst the titles of all tracks follow the same naming, there are still moments which break the mould. “Parallel 3” acts almost as a bridge-between tracks, whose melody fidgets in a way not too dissimilar to a Thundercat track. The piano on “Parallel 10” not only closes the album on a beautiful resolve, but its inherent-analogue sound gently brings the listener down from ethereal heights, planting both feet back on solid ground.

Having said all this, it’s unlikely I’ll regularly return to this. Not because it’s a bad album – quite the opposite in fact. There’s definitely a time and place for a record like this. It probably won’t become a go-to on your commute, whenever they start up again this year. I worry a bad experience, albeit a less-than-ideal one, could be a deal breaker for many listening to this. Find a quiet spot, away from the distractions and noise of the everyday. If you can give it the time and space, it’s worth the effort.

The impression Parallel made on me was that it’s the product of an artist who has nothing to prove. It seamlessly slips in and out of genres. From house, to ambient, to even world music at times. It feels very much in touch with the outside world (kudos to the birdsong) which gives it a universal quality in sound. It’s a wonderfully textured soundscape, which will sit quietly in wait for the moment I delve back inside.

In a year that brought so much unrest, Four Tet has gifted us with a moment to reflect and pause.

Noteworthy Tracks: “Parallel 1”, “Parallel 2”, “Parallel 6”

Notes, thoughts and reflections on albums.