If Steve Reich and Terry Riley had come of age forty years later than they did, chances are pretty high that the godfathers of modern minimalism would’ve done a killer collaboration with Kieran Hebden (a.k.a. Four Tet). Revered for his elegant and often mesmerizing synthesis of acoustic, electric, and digital instruments, this insatiable experimentalist has been concocting his uncompromising soundscapes for more than ten years now. Like Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air or Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, Four Tet’s ambitious mashups are not for those who are seeking immediate ear candy gratification.
Electronica with this many layers is, despite its typically propulsive beat, in no hurry to get to the climax. There’s actually a startling amount of harmonic movement, but just like the rotation of the Earth on its axis, you’re unlikely to feel it; not until the sun goes down are you reminded of the immense journey you’ve just made. Though the music is numbingly repetitive to some people – a friend of mine described it as “the soundtrack to shopping for a cheap sweater at Old Navy” – the circular rhythms, myriad stylistic influences (folk, jazz, and hip-hop among them), and lush arrangements of Four Tet’s ambient techno compositions are kind to those who know well enough to listen with a set of critical ears and a quality pair of headphones.
Four Tet’s 6th studio LP of original material finds Hebden playing primarily with suave, nocturnal moods. While there may be enough four to the floor bass drum present to make There Is Love in You a club-worthy dance record, its soothing demeanor is more likely to pacify than excite. The only track here with a somewhat aggressive tone is the sprawling “Love Cry,” a nine-minute tour de force that begins and ends with the incessant thrum of a pulsating synth. In between, Hebden throws in all manners of texture, including skittering electronic effects (one of which recalls the sound of an old dial-up modem), house drumbeats, simmering bass lines, and a sultry female vocal loop that chants the song’s name.
Elsewhere, the tone is more sedate. Opening track “Angel Echoes” is a deeply affecting blend of mallet percussion timbres and various vocal samples that, when spliced together, create a brilliantly haunting atmosphere. The thumping bass drum of “Plastic People” may seem cocksure, but the interwoven egg shaker rhythms and fragmented, echoing drones of a children’s choir ensure a decidedly psychedelic bent, like a Flaming Lips song with better application of melodic counterpoint and zero robot references. “Circling” is dazzling nearly to the point of hypnosis, as Hebden employs a gossamer guitar ostinato, watery digital effects, and a rippling synth arpeggio that all seem to finally coalesce after minutes of differing orbits.
“Sing” could have an equally mollifying effect, were it not for the off-kilter volume swells and androgynous vocal squeals. It’s the album’s only track that indicates a tentative air, with the constancy of the pulse belying the anxiousness of the lead melody and bleating voices. Ironically, it’s a lack of caution (and a deserved sense of boldness) that allows Kieran Hebden to weave together all of these disparate elements in a way that demands close attention even as it pushes the envelope.
There Is Love in You comes off largely as an effortless work, content to just gently glow in its own hazy bliss. Yet what plays as an exercise in deceptively cool assuredness likely couldn’t have been transacted by someone other than Four Tet; this is the kind of album that only gets executed by someone with extensive credentials as both a pioneering mind and innovative songwriter.