Wednesday, August 22, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: Four Tet - Pink

by Robby Beck

Kieren Hebden, otherwise known under the alias of Four Tet, has made some of my favorite electronic records of recent years. Everything from the folky and jazzy experimentations on his debut Dialogue, to the breathtaking beauty of Rounds, to the even more breathtaking beauty of 2010's There Is Love in You, which was my second favorite album of that year, crafts a developed sound that I cannot get enough of. Hebden just brings a gentleness and a deep intrinsic beauty to his music that I don't see in much other music, period. He has a knack for so very subtly building and morphing his pieces almost without warning, but also often without the listener even noticing.

Four Tet's new album Pink has been met with disappointment right out of the gate by some, mostly because in a way it is a compilation of vinyl-only singles he's been releasing throughout the past year paired with some unreleased tracks. I personally haven't listened to the individual singles enough for them to be old hat or even be as completely engrained in my mind as some of my favorite Four Tet songs, so I don't let that situation affect how I've listened to this album. However that doesn't mean that I can just forget that is a collection of singles, because that's honestly how the record feels. This notion comes forward within the first track, "Locked", which sounds like it's from a completely different album when compared to the rest of the tracks. On the majority of the other tracks on Pink, so many of the other pieces have so much going on at once; "Locked", by comparison feels pretty empty. The busy rhythm, cut-up and pitch-shifted vocal samples, and bass synths on "Pyramid" almost sounds like it's coming from a different producer altogether, even though it does make for a nice experiment. And the closer, "Pinnacle" sounds like a bleaker version of an old house tune. There's other examples I could list, but the point here is that Pink does not have the cohesive flow that his other albums do, and it makes me wonder if it would be better for Hebden to invest some more time into developing more material for a full-length rather than clumsily slapping on unrelated singles.

Unfortunately the lack of cohesion in sound and style just keeps a good number of these tracks from moving me. The record begins fairly weakly; "Locked" opens the record, like I mentioned, and as sexy as the rhythm and percussion might be, the track is pretty empty, and by the middle of the song you kinda realize that it's not going anywhere. I have a similar experience with the next track and the first completely unreleased one, "Lion". Granted there are more things going for the track, more sounds and textures; but it never builds to any kind of revelation or interesting structure or melody and it results in being stagnant and pretty underwhelming too. And as far as the closer "Pinnacles" goes, it seems to be riding solely on the idea that it's an anomaly, that it sounds like nothing else on the record, or frankly probably anything else Hebden has ever put together under the Four Tet name. If you look past that, I don't think there's anything that much interesting going for the track. It seems to flirt with jazz a bit, which is a territory Hebden has definitely gone into, and it would've been more interesting if he ditched the House experimentation and went fully on that route, honestly.

There are moments that I seriously do not care for on this album, but there are moments that I love to death, and remind me of the Four Tet that I came here for. The way all of the textures and sounds converge on tracks like "Jupiters" and "128 Harps" is just orgasmic; "Pyramid", like I mentioned, is like no other Four Tet piece I've heard, but it's one of the most engaging and exhilarating moments on the album (dat bass!!). But "Peace for Earth" may be my favorite, it's the one moment on this album that really moves me, moves me in the way that Four Tet does when he's at his prime. It's the kind of song I can get lost in, a song I can zone out to, or actively explore.

Sadly though, moments that I love are in a smaller supply than I would've liked, and usually expect from a new Four Tet release. I like that he is branching out and trying to release an album in somewhat of a different form than he has, but the tracks don't add up to a flowing, moving experience. The best Four Tet albums are like an adventure through a world that Hebden so meticulously crafts with each track. On Pink though, he sets up 8 different universes but unfortunately doesn't give the listener enough to explore.

Score: decent/strong 6

(Robby loves dem basses. Follow him on Twitter @ClydeNut)

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