Friday, January 29, 2010

Four Tet

There Is Love In You (Domino, 01.2010)

For: Fridge, Manuel Gottshing, Gas

Byline: Like the greatest of virtuosos, Kieren Hebden has proven himself a true genius of the medium, manipulating and representing these trajectories in a beautifully precise way that translates as both a prodigious mastery of craft, and real honest-to-god emotional depth. Originally posted on Used by permission by In Your Speakers, LLC.

If Kieren Hebden’s Four Tet project were a color model, it would have to be RGB. The reasons are simple - RGB is the additive color model. Red, Green and Blue light are superimposed on top of one another, and when mixed in varying degrees combine to form a vast array of colors, culminating in pure white. This is opposed to a model like CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK) which is subtractive, starting with white and subtracting wavelengths to reveal color, culminating in pure black. RGB is commonly used in electronic media (hint, hint) like television and computer screens, while CMYK is more often found in print media using inks and pigments. For Hebden, the musical medium itself seems to be more like a screen than a sheet of paper - the black void of silence is the canvas upon which the combination of an assortment basic colors (synths, drums, bass, etc.) formulate a sweeping diversity of color (sound).

It may be a stretch of an analogy, but given the fact that the cover of Four Tet’s fantastic new record, There is Love in You, features small circles with Photoshop screenshots, grayscales, and RGB color wheels, filtering through them images of flowers and fabrics, I think it is fitting. Each track on the album begins with a blank canvas, a black void of silence, and slowly filters colorful textures one by one to create vast spectral expanses of sounds and moods. Instead of using complex or bloated chord changes, Hebden opts for methods practiced by composers like Manuel Göttshing, Wolfgang Voigt or Steve Reich with unchanging harmonic centers, using texture and volume to reveal the limitless potential the sonic spectrum contains within. Each element functions as an additive color - a guitar loop, melodic wind chimes, a toy piano, harp, synth wash or vocal sample - all carefully timed and systematically layered over a hypnotically grounded groove to wield beautifully fluctuating painted works of art. Tracks ebb and flow like the tide, building layers into swirling, controlled crescendos that are allowed to ride along with the current. Whether you’re on the dance floor or curled up in some blankets for a snooze, you’ll be gently swept away.

By a long shot, There is Love in You is Four Tet’s strongest, most consistently rewarding release to date, and there are a couple of key differences in Hebden’s approach that set it apart. First has already been touched upon - the groove. The beats are much less rooted in hip hop and are geared more towards the dance floor. Everyone’s familiar with the age old axiom of “less is more.” Four Tet seems to have really taken this to heart on the new record. Previous ‘Tet records have had the drums front and center, whether they were the hip down-tempo beats of Rounds or the vibrant, aggressive blasts of Everything Ecstatic, syncopation was always the key, and it certainly unlocked the door to some very funky moments. But switching to a largely four-on-the-floor base was a marvelous decision on Hebden’s part, as these foundations provide a much broader, more open forum upon which Hebden has been able to really stretch his legs.

These wider landscapes have also allowed for Hebden to display his mastery of subtlety, keeping the beats simple and tenderizing them gently with micro-fills in the snare or layered hi-hat patterns to keep things interesting. Standout track “Plastic People” starts with a Gas-like steady bass drum pulse and adds understated, jazzy comps - hand claps, rim knocks, and up-beat pulsing shakers. These elements are methodically added to, and subtracted from the beat, maintaining a forward motion in a way that’s hardly noticeable but endlessly preservative of the track’s substructure.

The other key difference is in Hebden’s use of vocals, a technique I’d not yet heard from any previous Four Tet outing, and which works wonders for the project’s overall aesthetic. Hebden uses vocals here like any other instrument or sample on the record. The medium of electronic music is inherently audible throughout these samples - melodies are fractured, cut up, re-arranged, looped - in a word, constructed. Vocals are thus simply another weapon in Four Tet’s vast arsenal of sonic elements, treating them as percussive and melodic instruments rather than mere vehicles for lyrics. The voices provide another function here as well by giving these tunes a certain amount of soul. Look no further than lead single, “Love Cry,” for an example. The samples here, however devised or artificially conceived, are delivered with some seriously convincing passion, sexualizing and intensifying the track’s rhythm, faintly recalling the sweaty stomp of Chicago house.

Whether it’s the lulling repetition of gorgeous harmonics, the lush, densely constructed textures, the entrancing vocals or the bewitching beats, There is Love in You is positively addicting. Stripping down has simultaneously beefed up Four Tet’s mastery of beauty, and it is the more focused attention to sheer sonic detail that does the trick. No matter how electronic Four Tet’s music is, there has always been an innate sense of naturalism within his work, and There is Love in You highlights this sensibility more than any other Four Tet record before it. The sound wave itself, not unlike a guitar string, drum head, piano key or vocal cord, is a tangible, natural element of the physical world. It is Four Tet’s instrument, and just like the greatest of virtuosos, Kieren Hebden has proven himself a true genius of the medium, manipulating and representing these trajectories in a beautifully precise way that translates as both a prodigious mastery of craft, and real honest-to-god emotional depth.

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