SCQ Rating: 74%
In many ways it’s hard to evaluate Pink without first trying to determine what the hell happened to Four Tet. Here’s one of the brilliant minds of the early 00s, a beat-mashing genius who contributed to tearing down a lot of prejudices and walls that existed between electronic music and, well, every other genre, now assimilating himself into the UK dance scene. On the surface that appears as natural a slope as gravity itself; that Kieran Hebden would follow the 4/4 techno impulses of 2010’s There Is Love In You with an even more club-oriented song-cycle. But Four Tet’s whole game until now has been about resisting categorization, about mixing genre devices like chemical concoctions and making a fresh, unique identity out of the fusion. That daring playfulness has coined enduring, if unfortunate, terms (Rounds’ “Folktronica”) and earned an air that feels completely out of time (Everything Ecstatic’s jazzed-out, BoC-inspired throw-down).
Pink doesn’t just feel tied up by the exclusivity of its dance-floor intentions; Hebden’s cornucopia of musical ideas appear as linear loops, stretched broadly over eight and nine minute runtimes for ease of comprehension. Many of these ideas are of course excellent as snapshots: the moody Aphex Twin styled synth falling ominously over “Lion”, the tight nu-jazz rhythms of “Pinnacles”, the psych guitar line that squeals into earshot on “Locked”. Hell, even the indie-rock histrionics that swell into the heart of “Pyramid” are welcome but these highlights meet no element of surprise, no curious resistance capable of setting off tension or conflict. “Ocoras” and “Jupiters” don’t doddle but they don’t exactly go someplace either, marking a distinction that in the past would explain the dividing line barring engaging middle-of-the-road electronic acts from Four Tet’s caliber. In the midst of all this steady euphoria sits “Peace For Earth”, the only beat-free composition and a testament to Hebden’s interest in early New Age records, that unveils its energy and solemnity like a suite for interpretive dance. It’s pretty fantastic.
Beyond its obvious stylistic target, Pink reveals the extent of Four Tet’s gradual regression into dance music’s ranks through its release strategy, unveiling two tracks at a time in limited vinyl runs for the past year or so. While progressive in a capricious, when-I-feel-like-it sort of way, Hebden’s schedule literally leaves Pink the album as a last resort. No physical release equals no set release date equals no internet hype equals no big deal. Similarly, where the beats once propelled and challenged Hebden’s melodic side, Pink finds a symmetry that ensures each track goes down smooth and easy. Which is great for the club scene, I’m sure, but a sweaty dance-floor never used to be a prerequisite for enjoying Four Tet.