As ambient as it is dancefloor-ready, Four Tet’s newest release Parallel presents both music you’d lay back, close your eyes, and drift off to, and music you’d drop everything and move to. The coexistence of the ambient and the rhythmic is a balance that many of Four Tet’s innovative electronic contemporaries aspire to. Though from a different time altogether, Parallel reminds me of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Tracks 85-92, the airy intermingling with the regular beat. “Parallel 4”, easily one of the stronger tracks, veers close to the rave-inspired, angular, and deep work of Burial, if not as dark. This isn’t new ground for Four Tet. The London-based producer provides us again with peaceful yet tense, cerebral yet entertaining tracks to think as well as dance to
The album’s opening track is hard to ignore. A 26-minute long ambient track of epic proportions, “Parallel 1” is a floating landscape of sound the listener could walk into, like fields that lead into foothills leading into mountains. From the very first moment we get a glimpse of this environment. The first sound, a low, humming drone, hovers around the ears as if sitting on a primeval airplane, disappearing into clouds. Before long, the melodic theme that defines the song, made of dainty blips and pops, enters and repeats throughout with subtle variation. Though all the synthesizers have a tinny, old-school texture, the composition itself feels contemporary. It develops in waves of tension that are, wait for it, parallel to each other, without any sort of narrative hierarchy. The song is so long it merits a whole review in itself.
Now we ask the question, how does an album follow up on a 26-minute long opening track? The answer is very well. Parallel continues with tracks that alternate between longer, fleshed out songs and shorter, ambient interludes, a structure favored by fellow ambient innovators Boards of Canada. “Parallel 2” is a spaced-out, funky jam you might find in a particularly organic-sounding house mix. The four-on-the-floor kick drum’s interaction with disco hi-hats and the jungle of angular synths recalls certain songs from Dorian Concept. “Parallel 6” makes use of acoustic instrumentation with bells, finger piano, and hand drums (and is that a glockenspiel?) to create a carpet of melodies that dance around each other on the horizon. “Parallel 7” slows things to a swaying, downtempo groove that repeats until a sudden end where abstract, compressed samples take over. Parallel continues in this fashion, alternating between peaceful and active.
Four Tet’s composition impresses because of his work’s evidently painstaking exactitude. However, this surgical precision produces a sound that is organic and ultimately felt in the manner that a classical musician feels their song as much as reads it off paper. Parallel gives this unique impression of the musician’s intimate connection to their instrument. Additionally, Parallel is not so much genre-defying as presenting a plurality of genres, from ambient to a number of styles of dance music. All in all, longtime fans should be pleased with Four Tet’s ability to simultaneously make you move and to make you feel.