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Baby Beats

by Ali Hibbs on February 18, 2010

Four Tet
There Is Love in You

A computer-music professor once told me never to use visual or narrative metaphors to describe what was happening in a piece of electronic music. The rationale was that, as soon as you assign a sound symbolic quality, you lose the ability to interact with it on the raw level of timbre. This is useful advice for aspiring producers and avant musicians, but it deliberately ignores one of music’s most enchanting capabilities: the suggestive and synesthetic power to render a sonic world complete with visual and narrative associations.

Despite his proven aptitude in experimental circles, Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) takes full advantage of this power on There Is Love in You. Long regarded as a premier electronic producer, deftly navigating the cusp between IDM, jazz, and indie rock, Hebden has spent the past decade jumping between seemingly unrelated projects, such as remixing and touring with Radiohead and improvising with Sun Ra drummer Steve Reid. Along the way, a commitment to organic source material (live drums, acoustic instruments, analog hiss) earned him the billing “folktronica.” While generally ridiculous, the label hinted at something central to Hebden’s approach: Despite their complexity, every one of his tracks appeal to something basic, accessible and human.

There Is Love in You may be his most accessible set yet. During the time of its recording, Hebden was playing late-night sets at the London club Plastic People. What resulted was, fundamentally, a dance record, with most tracks built from or resolving to a steady four-on-the-floor pulse. Due to a brilliant sense of patience and restraint, the beats are insistent yet delicate, never resorting to the “untzy” muscularity of techno, or glitchy discombobulation. Instead, simple drums, keyboards, vocal snippets and computer bubbles get stacked to hypnotic effect, occasionally nesting a simple melody played on, say, handbells.

Track titles like “Circling,” “Reversing,” and “This Unfolds” function more like the titles of abstract paintings than pop music, simply describing the dynamic on display and, perhaps, violating that professor’s rule of thumb. Within the act of circling or reversing, Hebden’s textures come to life, his twinkling keyboards personified, tiny landscapes and dramas animated. And with “Pablo’s Heart,” the pulse is all the more affecting when you know it derives from an unborn baby.