Starting off in post-rockers Fridge, carving out a name for himself with a series of high profile remixes (Aphex Twin, Radiohead, Madvillian, Kings of Convenience, et al.) and releases as Four Tet, and spending the last four years or so collaborating with jazz legend Steve Reid, Kieran Hebden’s decade-plus career has yielded some fantastic works, to be sure. Yet, until 2008’s Ringer EP, there was always a sense that, despite being branded an electronic performer from day one, Hebden saw himself more in the shadow of spiritual jazzboes (such as Reid himself or the other regular standby Alice Coltrane) than within the continuum of house or rave.
His fractalization of gentle ambient acoustic strumming on Pause earned him a tag as the premier “folktronica” artist, a genre that is head-scratching given how little impact folk seemed to have on his recordings. Still, the man’s incorporation of “organic” instrumentation and its acute emphasis in the mix seemed like an outright rejection of the technologic, a back-to-nature future primitivism in tune with the earth tones of a post-Sun Ra multiculturalist sci-fi brew. Luckily, Hebden didn’t sacrifice rhythm in his energetic arrangements, despite the artist’s proximity to the backpacker undie hop crew (who are often known to run stale beats). Perhaps, it was this that drew Hebden and Reid together for their four album experimental series.
Hebden was known to switch up his styles between albums or projects, but the aforementioned Ringer EP seemed to arrive from way out in left field. A full-on digital experience, Ringer was inspired by Hebden’s stints DJing. In true selector form, the tracks were tested out in the club before obtaining disc space. Hebden repeated this formula on his latest, There Is Love in You, Four Tet’s first full length since 2005’s Everything Ecstatic, even going so far as to spin early single “Love Cry” at every session of his residency at the UK’s Plastic People night club (which is itself commemorated on the There Is Love track “Plastic People”).
Whereas Hebden’s earlier cuts seemed intensely personal, almost like journal entries, his new method of writing is communal, suggesting that these cuts might correlate better to shared experience than introspection. Indeed they do. One gets the sense that these songs have been distilled into the perfect formula, a scrupulous process whose ends are derived from the motions of the crowd, which, to this reviewer, seems just as essential to tapping into the spiritualism of Hebden’s beloved jazz forefathers. Those talents may have believed that inward travel was key to attaining enlightenment, but the final arch of the journey was a pilgrimage back to the community, to spread the truth in noise outward unto the world.
There Is Love in You is not nearly as sleekly algorithmic as Ringer was, but it also isn’t hesitant to foreground electronic sounds either. Its “Love” makes it a much warmer release than its immediate predecessor, and perhaps a far less exurban joint than 2008’s collaboration with Hebden’s high school mate Burial. Surprisingly, on Hebden’s first LP without Reid, the rhythm section is rather restrained. It’s not underplayed as much as inhibited in occasions of calm, and tempered to germanely address momentous bouts of tension. Harnessing his chi, Hebden assures that There Is Love In You is more about finding balance than expressing virtuousity. We all know what he’s capable of at this point, so telling rather than showing is only appropriate.
“Love Cry” is uncontestably the album’s pinnacle moment, as well as its darkest. Deep house with drawn out machinal splinters, the song harnesses squelching melodies with diaphanous drone undertones like Hotflush UK dubstep set to a march. Hebden uses the old rave trick of twisting a sample to make it sound like the album’s adopted title. Female murmurs of “love cry” are eventually backed by persistent appeals to “love me” as the track builds and builds. Signature Four Tet riffage only breaks in during the final minute of the nine-minute song, and they work best in this regard as an aftershock.
The slow build is quite traditional in the house format. It’s a break from Hebden’s usually complex arrangements, but it suits these tracks perfectly. “Angel Echoes” starts with a simple four-on-the-floor and soul voices reverberating like ghosts in the backdrop, the latter eventually conspiring into a Lettrist choir of tone harmonics. “Circling” gains unbelievable mileage from a half arpeggiated riff by padding it with blissful komische insulation and slivers of female voice. “Sing” dices and chops its wonky plinks and bleeps a la UKG classics or Akufen into a somberly programmed jambalaya.
The only track that doesn’t succeed 100% is the anti-climax album ender “She Just Loves to Fight”, whose drive is compelled from pretty standard post-rock/Explosions in the Sky style noodling. It’s a bit too rustic and gentle for this set and feels out of place, despite intruding choral yelps and clean eighth note sine waves. It’s not a bad song and certainly leaves a mostly pleasant, rather than rotten, taste in the mouth at the album’s close, but it sounds like it’s from a different time. Hebden has yet again created a wonderful space where he can rightfully be called sui generis. That, more than familiar iterations of the past, feels like home for the artist as he continues his long fruitful journey, his spirit walk towards an inner space to benefit the universal consciousness. There Is Love In this album, for sure. How sweet it is.
// Notes from the Road
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