Saturday, February 20, 2010

There Is Love In You - Four Tet

There Is Love In You

Four Tet
Domino Records.

SCQ Rating: 82%

If direction hasn’t been at the heart of every thesis revolving Four Tet’s discography all these years, it has certainly been a noteworthy concentration. From the declarations, both with Pause and Rounds, that he’s a genre-pioneer to assertions from improv-fanatics that Tongues and NYC break ground for an electro-jazz revolution, Kieran Hebden has earned heavy cred for supplementing his successful Four Tet brand with a workingman’s verve for side-projects and remixes. Nonetheless, Hebden’s multiple Steve Reid-affiliated jams, a Fridge album and (let’s not forget) Ringer EP, Four Tet’s lackluster 2008 effort, have stunted a vertical arrow, once ascending to dizzying heights, into a myriad of small arrows plateauing outward. These flow-chart inspired questions of direction have only increased in anticipation of There Is Love In You, the first Four Tet full-length in five years, as Hebden dives wholeheartedly into modern dance music.

Purportedly fleshed out and refined over his lengthy DJ residency at Plastic People, There Is Love In You finds Four Tet fully committed to the glassy-eyed minimal techno suggested on Ringer EP. It could’ve been a disaster. The very notion of Kieran Hebden, one of electronic music’s best beat-programmers, turning to uber-popular 4/4 beats just gave me chills. Yet what failed on Ringer EP – two-dimensional melodies, flat drones - is revisited and scrapped in favour of a streamlined Everything Ecstatic sequel; woven with a thousand familiar, winking harmonies but blitzed out on the autobahn with far more BPM. Opening with a reminder of last year’s memorable split with Burial, ‘Angel Echoes’ finds Hebden still swimming in vocal samples, spliced into new patterns like bottle shards softened by club-induced beats. Despite its healthy four-minute length, this addictive track feels like little more than an intro; possibly because it’s as stationary and well-fed as ‘Smile Around the Face’, or maybe because it’s followed by the nine-minute rave-up ‘Love Cry’. Indeed, the minimal techno influence is inescapable, gripping the staccato punctuations of ‘Sing’ and utilizing predictable, three-note progressions on the aptly-named ‘Plastic People’.

Where, on one hand, his beats threaten to cast Four Tet into the Kompakt crowd with Gui Boratto and The Field, There Is Love In You acts as a blueprint for Hebden’s melodic instincts, allowing him to layer curious found-sounds and organic instruments over measured time-signatures. In this vein, ‘Sing’ features some trance vocals stretched into childish-meets-exorcist strands while the seemingly infinite arpeggios of ‘Circling’ end up meshing for a surprisingly structured finale. These careful inclusions muddle what could’ve been Four Tet’s most transparent album, offering complexity from slight turns, grit from sleek frames.

Still, there’s something to be said for ‘Reversing’, a dance track rewound which gracefully speaks volumes about Four Tet’s career-path indecision. Winding backward so quickly, the sounds of bass and crashing cymbals can barely be deciphered from the percolating melodies still resonating in real time. Where next? In terms of the Four Tet saga, There Is Love In You may be remembered most as the album Hebden hung up his innovator’s cap to bask in the pale light of modern trends. Or perhaps this will be considered the first Four Tet release that manages to be more beautiful than provocative. With ‘This Unfurls’, which takes a refreshing backpeddle to the days of live drums and BoC psychedelia, and ‘She Just Likes to Fight’, a polished revisiting of ‘Slow Jam’, There Is Love In You often feels like a smoke-and-mirrors standstill, or a slight regression. No matter how you spin it, the debate of Four Tet’s direction doesn’t weigh so much when he sounds so on top of his game.

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