Four Tet, 'Pink' (Text)

8
Pink
Critical Mass
Release Date: August 21, 2012
Label: Text

by Philip Sherburne

Pink is the closest thing to a "proper" club record that Kieran Hebden has produced in his 14 years as Four Tet. (Well, apart from last year's FabricLive 59 mix CD.) Indeed, it's a series of proper club records, with six of its eight tracks having already appeared as 12-inch singles on his own Text label, and proven their mettle on dance floors from Fabric to Berlin’s Panorama Bar and beyond.

But it's not necessarily cement walls, sticky floors, and heaving subwoofers that spring to mind when you encounter Hebden’s unique version of dance music. You flash, instead, on pure texture. Pink's sounds are variously spongy, mossy, downy, wispy, and woody; the beats fluff like feathers, and the porous chords and counterpoints billow together like sun-dappled leaves. (I hear more greens and yellows than pink, but hey — synaesthesia is in the ear of the beholder.)

Yes, there's more than a touch of the "organic" here, and I apologize if I'm condemning Hebden to more of the pathetic fallaciousness that once found his productions branded as "folktronica." But how else do you describe a sound like this, where even the machines are folded so lovingly into the mix that they evoke fiber and flesh just as much as they do electrical currents and binary toggling? Where glockenspiels, harps, and kalimbas — long Hebden's stock in trade — rub elbows with bone-dry 909 snares and lacerating disco beats? And, above all, where the music evolves as naturally it does here?

It's the beats that really distinguish Pink from Four Tet's previous releases, doubling down on the clubwise thump he first explored on 2008's Ringer EP. Hebden's grooves are largely modeled after house and garage rhythms, but they forego in-your-face drum machines in favor of supple hand drums and incidental rustle layered and looped into a kind of knock-kneed lockstep. Their entwined pulses fall together every one or two bars, but in between those nodes, everything feels in flux, up for grabs.

It's probably no coincidence that the first song is titled "Locked." Reminiscent of the London pirate-radio slang phrase "locked on," it highlights Hebden's own borrowings from British underground club music, like the 2-step skip of "Jupiters" or the hedonistic house oomph of "Pyramid." The title also suggests being locked into the rhythm — "in the pocket," as the jazz and funk drummers of Hebden's other main milieu would have it. It's a techno record, but one that takes fragments from Steve Reich and old Ocora world-music compilations, and translates them for a contemporary club-music context without losing the richness and slipperiness that makes them so wild on their own terms. This isn't a new idea, at all. But Hebden does it better than anyone else right now.

Elsewhere, "Jupiters" opens with extended Roland arpeggios that don't sound far off from a stripped-down Oneohtrix Point Never track before turning into a dirty, toe-scuffing U.K. garage jam. "128 Harps" also plays with bass music's broken-beat tropes, but leavens its speaker-rattling womp and hip-house vocal shots with crystalline harps, like Joanna Newsom gone dubstep. "Ocoras" is a meditative techno shuffler that seemingly uses loofahs in place of snare drums; "Pyramid" balances echoes of the Brand New Heavies' "Jump N Move" with funky house at its most uncharacteristically dulcet. And the powerful "Pinnacles" throws down the gauntlet, taunting milquetoast piano-house producers to come up with bolder riffage: No wanly syncopated stabs here, but bright, strong clusters of tone that blow apart in slow motion.

One of two previously unreleased songs (both coming soon on 12-inch vinyl), "Peace for Earth," serves as the keystone that holds the whole set together, beginning with placid strings and gradually swelling into a burbling drip-drip-drip of blippy counterpoints reminiscent of Laurie Spiegel or Suzanne Ciani. Despite the absence of percussion, it moves as steadily as a mountain stream, a reminder of the pulse connecting club music with a much vaster world beyond. Now, more than ever, we need the long view glimpsed through Pink's rose-tinted rave goggles.

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