Since the late 2000s, Kieren Hebden's work as Four Tet (plus side ventures like Percussions and KH) has explored club culture more thoroughly than his earlier releases, nodding to pirate radio and U.K. garage with albums like Beautiful Rewind and white-label collaborations with producers such as Burial and Terror Danjah. New Energy, his 2017 full-length, seems somewhat ironically named at first, as it finds him revisiting the downtempo sound of earlier productions such as his 2003 breakthrough, Rounds. Following the brief ambient intro "Alap," "Two Thousand and Seventeen" saunters in and drops an astonishingly gorgeous melody played on what sounds like a hammered dulcimer. A few atmospheric synths and additional effects and samples join it, as well as a plaintive bassline, but the melody speaks volumes, and it's touching enough to make it seem like the best Four Tet track in ages. "LA Trance" features a slow, scratchy, thumping beat along with several light, spacious sounds (chimes, birds, ambient drift) as well as simple yet imaginative synthesizer melodies courtesy of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Much of the rest of the album, aside from atmospheric interludes and the stirring downtempo cut "Daughter," consists of uptempo tracks, but even these are reflective enough to be more appropriate for home listening than club play (with the possible exception of "SW9 9SL," a slightly trancey epic with a galloping beat and a rolling garage bassline). "Lush" isn't an Orbital cover, but it's lovely enough to be worthy of such an honor. "You Are Loved" features shuffling drum breaks and a delectable kalimba melody over spacy keyboards, gradually joined by jolts of squirmy, spark-like synths. Tracks like "Scientists" and "Planet" return to the ecstatic vocal manipulations prominent on 2010's There Is Love in You, but there appears to be more of a sense of spaciousness here. Hebden's instruments seem more intimately recorded and cleanly arranged than on his early, glitchier releases, but they manage to avoid sounding sterile or soulless. New Energy is one of the most accessible, listener-friendly releases in the Four Tet catalog, but it still maintains the creativity and unpredictability that have always made his work stand out.
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AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson