With the releases of the Anna Painting and Teenage Birdsong EPs in 2019 it was clear that Four Tet was gearing up for something big in the new year. What arrives is Sixteen Oceans, the producer’s first LP since 2017’s much-vaunted New Energy. The one born Kieran Hebden makes good on the ‘sixteen’ of the record’s title here by stuffing the record with just as many tracks. In fact, with its mysterious D-side offering - we’re not going to let slip what it is - Sixteen Oceans runs to an even greater length. It’s certainly a bumper set.
Sixteen Oceans also somewhat reconfigures the Four Tet sound. New Energy reached back to the folksy style of Hebden’s early output, its tuned percussion and stringed instruments spilling out over the sides of his beats. There’s a little less of that here, something evidenced by Sixteen Oceans’ lead singles. The aforementioned ‘Teenage Birdsong’ appears once again, its lilting downtempo hip-hop drums and chirping lead-line coming off like a more cerebral Gold Panda joint. Meanwhile ‘Baby’ is a crisp two-step garage jam built around the chopped-up vocals of none other than Ellie Goulding. These tracks hark back to the crisp techno cuts Hebden was producing around the time of Pink and There Is Love In You.
However, the new-age sonics that dictated New Energy are far from done away with on Sixteen Oceans. ‘Insect Near Piha Beach’ contains a similar drumbeat to ‘Baby’ but treats it with cerebral string tones derived from Laraaji. There are also plenty of occasions here where Hebden does away with the beats entirely to really lean into the more weightless sides of his sound - ‘Green’, ‘Harpsichord’, ‘Mama Teaches Sanskrit’ and ‘4T Recordings’ are all gorgeous ambient tracks helmed by dawn-chorus electronics.
Four Tet realigns his sound a little on Sixteen Oceans, the project’s first full-length record since 2017.