Is Love in You
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
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.
Odd Blood, it’s tempting to say that Yeasayer “pulled
a Veckatimest.” Much in the way Grizzly Bear followed
up the considerable promise of early experimental records
with last year’s art-pop magnum opus of that title, Yeasayer
seemed to use 2007’s psychedelic All Hour Cymbals as
a warm-up for this, their more accessible, consistent, hook-laden
and buzzworthy record.
The Grizzly Bear comparison ends there, though, as Odd
Blood is, at its core, a dance record par excellence.
Recorded in a Woodstock house rented from studio drummer Jerry
Marotta, the album uses that post-DIY, everything-and-the-sound-of-the-dripping-kitchen-sink
mentality, but in the service of infectious melodies and retro
dance beats. In fact, it may be more accurate to say the band
“pulled an Oracular Spectacular,” as, like that MGMT
debut, Odd Blood is a seemingly endless collection
of glitzy Prince-inspired electro dance singles.
Alp” has, somewhat arbitrarily, emerged as the album’s first
single, featuring a faux-reggae UB40-ish chorus and Chris
Keating’s pining vocals. But, truth is, almost any track could
serve as the centerpiece: “Madder Red” with its cascading
oohs; “Rome” in its Beyonce-baiting; “Mondegreen” and its
TV on the Radio-esque handclaps and horns. “O.N.E.” uses ’80s-vintage
electro Africana (not unlike the Talking Heads’ “I Zimbra”)
as the backdrop for a song about how confusing human attraction
can be, striking a strange balance between cold, synthetic
kitsch and warm emotion.
The band have been frank about their intention to craft a
sterile sci-fi record that seems to “take place in an off-world
colony sometime after the Singularity,” but what’s remarkable
is how Odd Blood never feels heady or alien. Instead,
it’s a record with real physical appeal that will, no doubt,
serve as a preferred party mix for much of 2010.