First things first: being comprised of tracks that have been released across six 12” singles spanning back to March 2011, can we consider Pink a proper Four Tet album? In all fairness, even the most ardent of Four Tet fans would have to admit that as interesting a producer as he has the ability to be, his albums have had the tendency to feel at times like a collection of ideas rather than a coherent statement – 2010’s There Is Love In You perhaps being a case in point, striking a middle ground between the sample based electronica of his early years and a desire to strike out into clubbier territory with tracks like “Love Cry” and “Sing”.
Although Kieran Hebden’s sound has always been closely allied with Border Community producers like James Holden and Nathan Fake, and has grown along much the same trajectory as Canadian producer Dan Snaith (aka Caribou), Hebden’s recent move to dance music seems to have been borne out of an enthusiasm for UK garage (displayed on his Fabriclive mix from last year) and the current wave of British producers reinventing the sound – Joy Orbison and the Hessle Audio family being the most notable examples. A cursory glance at the Twitter profiles of both parties will show how much respect Hebden has for those younger producers and vice versa, and it makes sense that Hebden should ally himself with the current innovators of the UK garage template. What you have in Pink therefore is actually one of the most conceptual musical statements from Hebden to date; although by no means a “dancefloor” album as many will no doubt make out, it is nevertheless Hebden’s attempt to filter the nascent strands of his current interests and affiliations – the analogue trance of Border Community, the organic techno of Caribou and Daphni, the darker, bassier sounds of labels like Hessle and Hemlock – and create something that is still resolutely Four Tet.
Opener “Locked” is perhaps the best example; operating at 132BPM, its beat skips like a garage track but feels like dubstep, a wobbling bassline giving weight to its phased acoustics and melodies rendered in soft shades of autumnal brown, all faintly reminiscent of Martyn’s classic remix of TRG’s “Broken Heart”. “Jupiters” is rendered with much the same tone; opening with an extended intro of shimmering analogue keys, the track is balanced out with the kind of hefty bass toms that have become one of contemporary bass music’s most recognisable tropes. In Hebden’s hands though, these elements feel lighter than air, and rather than being an oppressive exercise in blunt masculine force they offer a dense contrast. “Ocoras”, one of the album’s most rhythmically relentless tracks, is nevertheless dusty and billowing, its tiny samples sounding like air rushing in to fill the gaps between its battered drums, while the beatless “Peace For Earth” is a sublime piece of analogue kosmische which recalls early Nathan Fake, its lack of reliance on samples giving it an uncluttered purity .
What’s enjoyable about these tracks is that Hebden doesn’t feel the need to fall back into familiar territory, and when he occasionally does is where “Pink” starts to fall apart slightly. The brushed cymbals of “Lion” feel like “Love Cry” mark II, with typically wayward glockenspiel melody, while “128 Harps” feels like someone has taken an MPC to some of his “Rounds” era material, and although its Theo Parrish-inspired looseness is structurally sound, you can’t help but shake the feeling you’ve heard its melody somewhere before.
Perhaps the finest tracks on Pink are a result of Hebden finding new ways to channel his inherent love of melody; closer “Pinnacles” is a sublime combination of scratchy percussion, flanged bass and lounge piano, the whole thing glued together with rickety charm, skating along like a bicycle with loose wheels that channels the spirit of a lost disco classic through Hebden’s own love of jazz. But it’s the melodic elements that elevate it; rather than bombarding you with saccharine glockenspiel, every chord and distorted string is carefully rationed and ultimately more anticipated as a result. It’s “Pyramid” however that provides the biggest diversion from Hebden’s comfort zone, and arguably the album’s finest moment. A tracky techno cut with mangled vocals, its climax sees Hebden slowly open the surrounding darkness and begin to let the light in, balancing bass-heavy dancefloor needs with a blinding moment of melodic introspection. This kind of contrast has provided some of the producer’s most successful moments – the desperate urgency of “Love Cry”, the hypnotic dread of “Ringer”, the quasi-industrial jazz of “A Joy” or the frankly devastating “Unspoken” – and it’s this kind of note that Pink hits for the most part, though it’s not the game changer some may have hoped for from a producer who seems tantalisingly on the edge of a great reinvention.
5. 128 Harps
7. Peace for Earth