- Kieran Hebden first teased New Energy with the release of "Two Thousand And Seventeen," a track whose title carried some weight. It was a soothing balm to a year already beset by tragedy, political upheaval and frustration, with elegantly trilling strings and a rhythm that recalled Hebden's pre-dance floor days. New Energy, at times both melancholy and hopeful, is a fusion between Four Tet's festival-dominating dance music and his more humble beginnings. The energy here isn't exactly new, nor all that energetic, but it is aglow with comfort and compassion.
Hebden established his signature early on in his career, infusing electronic sounds with a tactile warmth—a style that, in the early 2000s, was sometimes referred to as "folktronica." Lush with plucked instrumentation and wafting chord sequences, the best moments of New Energy reflect those older days while reconciling them with Hebden's more recent dance floor leanings. "SW9 9SL" is a UK garage track with a luxurious breakdown so long you forget you're listening to a dance tune. "You Are Loved" mixes barely-there breaks with synth sweeps that recall Selected Ambient Works, dusted off with a plucked music box melody. Its deep, reassuring embrace is hard to resist.
New Energy seems designed to lull and relax its listeners, complete with shorter tracks that act like pillowy resting places between the heavier tunes, which themselves rarely break above a whisper. "LA Trance" is one of the LP's most euphoric tracks, but it's also serene. The lead arpeggio moves carefully, and the hi-hats hiss softly. As with much of Hebden's recent work, though, its daintiness can work against it. Violin samples turn the brief "10 Midi" from meek to maudlin, and the drowsy trip-hop of "Daughter" sounds like a rough Buddha Bar demo. The album's closer, "Planet," feels like an anticlimactic end, lacking the grace and interplay of a similar track, "Lush." There, the album's signature string plucks chime and twinkle over the beat as if they were dancing on it.
New Energy is a record whose heart-on-sleeve sentiment occasionally gets the best of it. But its tranquil spirit and moments of hope make it almost transgressive at a time when other artists are channeling 2017's climate of fear and frustration into dark, angry sounds. That alone is a bold statement. Though far from perfect, New Energy is one of Hebden's most intimate and personal albums, with all the idiosyncrasies that come with that.
02. Two Thousand And Seventeen
03. LA Trance
07. Falls 2
08. You Are Loved
09. SW9 9SL
10. 10 Midi
13. Gentle Soul