Thursday, January 21, 2010

Celestial Dancing

Four Tet - There Is Love In You (Domino)

Kieren Hebden has been so busy over the past few years DJing, remixing and collaborating (notably with improvising drummer Steve Reid), and briefly reuniting Fridge, that it’s easy to forget that it’s been four years since his last release under the Four Tet moniker. His recent path seems to have veered far from the laboured ‘folktronica’ tag with which he has been somewhat unfairly burdened. ‘There Is Love In You’ achieves quite a neat trick by serving as a reminder of Hebden’s skill for crafting a hinterland where electronic and acoustic sounds meet whilst also imbuing his distinctive vision with fresh and absorbing ideas.

We’re familiar with the bright, sparkling, pastoral melodies with which Hebden has long been associated. Unsurprisingly, ‘There is Love In You’ is liberally peppered with them. Yet the album starts with two pieces founded primarily on vocal sampling, a technique that has not traditionally been a Hebden hallmark. It seems possible that Hebden has digested the pervasive influence of his former schoolmate and dubstep producer Burial, to whom the masterful ‘Angel Echoes’ and ‘Love Cry’ bear some resemblance. Yet these tracks are not mere pastiches or facsimiles of the innovations of other producers – the percussive textures and shimmering sound are entirely characteristic of Hebden. Whereas Burial uses the sound of voices to create something claustrophobic and tense, Hebden uses them to create something open, spacious and invigorating. ‘Love Cry’, particularly, feels like a comprehensive synopsis of recent trends in dance music, all filtered through Hebden’s own distinct and confident gaze.

The abiding mood here is melancholy, but not sad. There’s a sense that private contemplation and reflection can be a comfort and might even result in expressions of joy. In this way, the more languid pace and gentle dynamics of ‘This Unfolds’ make perfect sense in the same company as the insistent, jubilant ‘Sing’. The former is a typically cumulative construction – eventually blossoming into a piece of minimal techno, but with the hazy sensation of its first phase (reminiscent of something from Hebden’s band Fridge) still somehow retained. The latter exhibits more of the physical impetus introduced on last year’s ‘Ringer’ EP. Yet it also has a disorientating false ending before concluding with a more slippery, distant theme.

This combination of the celebratory and the contemplative consistently informs a particularly adventurous, complex and satisfying album, possibly the best of Hebden’s career to date. The music has a rapturous, near-celestial atmosphere, but with the impulsive rhythmic drive of the best club music. It is sensual music in the broadest sense.

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