Four Tet

There is Love in You

(Domino; 2010)

By Conrad Amenta | 3 February 2010

Who knew that what is supposed to be Kieran Hebden’s likeable dance record would end up, at least for his fans, a strange kind of divisive? Its quality is already widely acknowledged, but there’s a discussion bubbling about if this is even a “real” Four Tet record. He’s always hung somewhere between Squarepusher experimentalism and, say, Danger Mouse accessibility—his still lovely remix of Born Ruffians’ “I Need a Life” compelling evidence of his pop compatibility—with collabs with drummer Steve Reid counterpoised by what were ostensibly uncontroversial singles like “Smile Around the Face.” But There Is Love in You is challenging for how far it strays from those competing caveats, from Hebden’s instinct to open up niche genres and then make obscured their pop core. It is focused, and sleek, and hard to dislike, and for those engaged with Four Tet since at least Rounds (2003), sort of dull because of it.

This is, after all, the man whose two-song dub step collaboration with Burial made it all the way to #6 on the Glow’s 2009 AsOTY list, a niche one-off entering territory reserved for unanimity. Moth/Wolf Cub proved Hebden chameleonic, that he could apply a prevailing method to diverse projects, inject them with new electricity to make them sound like Four Tet without sacrificing their distinctiveness. Which is here flipped; There is Love in You sounds a bit like Four Tet bled of color to more fully achieve the model of the static, objective project. The discussion isn’t so much undermined as its participants. What would be for any new artist a foundation-laying album is, for Hebden, sort of staid: the beats are mantra-like in their repetitiveness, the time signatures and dynamics consistent, the overlapping textures less complexly layered. There’s no denying that the record is exactly what it’s meant to be—the oft-repeated story is that Hebden honed much of this material during a regular club gig, and so people actually needed to dance to it; no contrapuntal drum freak-outs allowed. If we extend our supposition, There is Love in You is the sound of a once insular and thus wholly uncompromising artist going social. Not a bad thing, but different, and strange to come so deep as seven albums into Hebden’s career.

Judged entirely on the grounds of a genre exercise (or anti-genre exercise, if you like; Four Tet with the jazz stripped out), most of the album is tastefully controlled—strict dance numbers like “Love Cry” and “Plastic People” are occasionally offset by beautiful, rhythm-less numbers like “Reversing” and “She Just Likes to Fight” (surely one of the prettiest songs in Hebden’s catalogue). Elsewhere the album’s strictness is suffocating, like on “Sing,” which is too committed to its stumbling three-note progression, and “This Unfolds,” which is truncated minimalism chock empty in the middle of all this tinkling dance. All of which may point to Chet’s observation, that you can go back as far as Dialogue (1999) and find a greater range of ideas at play than here. It’s hard not to allow any discussion surrounding this newest effort to become about what it isn’t.

There’s no denying that the album’s opening two tracks, and perhaps “Love Cry” on its own, may justify the experiment, a return of sorts to the uncomplicated drive and universalism once trumpeted as the dance movement’s raison d’etre. But it seemed like Moth/Wolf Cub pointed to more fruitful grounds to be exploited, that There is Love in You should be the one-off, a byproduct of a club gig, a fun aside, and other projects (even those yet to come) acknowledged as Hebden’s ostentatious achievement. It seems as if this is already being treated as his defining statement, which says more about the broader audience it taps into—or the critics with little else to add to those superlatives already attributed Hebden—than it does about the record itself. For the established Four Tet fan, it’s hard to give Hebden’s sleekly stripped record extra points by removing it from discographic context.

The thing of it is, for all the talk of this being Hebden’s club record, I thought Ringer (2008) did a lot of what There is Love in You does but with better drums, and without eliminating so much of what was once Four Tet’s stylistic distinction. It played ostentatious melody against tension to culminate in explosive rhythm, providing both the dips and bends benefiting great dance records and the dynamics to interest acute listeners. But There is Love in You renders Ringer primer, posits itself as perfect solution to messy experimentation, and while it’s hard to find the divisiveness in that, it’s also hard to be truly moved.