Review by John Bush
Kieran Hebden's first Four Tet full-length in four years comes after a parade of collaboration albums, DJ dates, remixes, and one EP that sounded strikingly like John Carpenter soundtracking the original Halloween film. Appropriately, There Is Love in You is a reset album, one where Hebden pares his music down to the essentials. (Sorry, no dubstep workouts or pastoral ballads to be found here.) It's the most natural he's sounded on record in years, much more assured than Everything Ecstatic, which bore the brunt of Hebden's wish to snip the folktronica tag by floating an array of (somewhat) iconoclastic tracks. Here, the music consists of little more than soft tones, muted beats, and overlaid music-box melodies. Perhaps not a recipe for greatness, but in keeping with the axiom that a great artist can always shine no matter the materials or medium, There Is Love in You is an accomplished, beautiful record (despite the lack of shiny bits). Vocals, where they appear, are wordless and textural; the few samples are glitchy but warm and hypnotic. The nine-minute single "Love Cry" sounds like Carl Craig's Innerzone Orchestra making an epic children's record. Overall, There Is Love in You has the spartan precision of Phillip Glass but also, surprisingly, the warmth and vitality of classic Cluster as well. From his debut, Hebden has always made the more alien side of electronic music sound warm and inviting; this not only accomplishes that, but ranks with his best.
Kieran Hebden first came on the scene in the 1990s as a member of Fridge, a post-rock outfit that to me always looked better on paper than they sounded on record. Whatever you think of his first band, Hebden's subsequent career can be seen as the idea of post-rock done right. His appetite for music, on the evidence presented in his albums, singles, DJ sets, and collaborations, is voracious. But Hebden has a way of transforming and integrating influences rather than channeling them. So if his loose improvised collaborations with drummer Steve Reid captured something of the spirit of the classic late-60s free jazz records on Impulse!, they also managed to carve out a unique and identifiable aesthetic that sounds very much like today. When working with others, like the wooly free-folk unit Sunburned Hand of the Man or the dubstep producer Burial, Hebden knows when to lead and when to get out of the way. But all the while, whatever the context, he's absorbing. And when it comes to his own records as Four Tet, he has a knack for combining sounds from all over and making them his own.
Rounds is the one undisputed Four Tet classic, but all are at least good. It's not unusual for Four Tet records to have a few dull patches, but given Hebden's M.O., that's never a big problem. You expect him to explore a bit, so it's okay when once in a while something doesn't quite gel. Ringer, an intriguing EP from 2008 that throbbed with a minimal pulse and revealed a surprisingly austere side to his music, is a good example. It was the kind of record you wanted to inch closer to, because you had the sense there might be more going on beneath the surface than you'd initially realized. The follow-up album, There Is Love in You, is the glorious sound of those ideas being drawn into the light.
This is the most focused Four Tet album by a huge margin, and for some listeners that could be an issue. Hebden apparently refined this music over the course of a long stint as a resident DJ at the London club Plastic People. He'd play developing tracks in his sets, see how people responded, and return to them armed with this information. And while the result isn't dance music proper, There Is Love in You definitely functions on that plane. This isn't fist-pumping music that toys with the pleasure of pop music, like one of my favorite Four Tet tunes, "Smile Around the Face". And it's not an album that bowls you over with the density and intricacy of its textures. Instead, it's both heady and physical, subtle but powerful music for thinking and moving or ideally doing both at the same time: It's been a while since a brisk walk through the city sounded this good.
Very early in the 2000s, the corny word "folktronica" was sometimes applied to Four Tet's style. It never defined him, but the tag was applied because it described his fondness for samples of sounds that seem to be reverberating in a physical space. He sampled jazz cymbals, guitars, gamelan-style percussion, and voices, mixing them in with electronic squiggles and choppy breaks culled from hip-hop. Hebden's fondness for acoustic sounds caused his music to come over as unusually airy and bright. It made you think of daylight rather than the nocturnal crackle of sampled vinyl. Though Love is a very different album from those earlier records, remnants of the sound palette remain, imparting a similar sense of clarity, brightness, and warmth despite its late-night club-bound inspiration.
The album begins with a crisp cymbal tap on "Angel Echoes" that sounds perfectly live until a quick digital stutter comes a few bars in, and then a clipped female voice, reduced to just syllables but still conveying a strong sense of yearning, begins looping into view. There are bells, a steady midtempo 4/4 kick, and that voice, and that's about it. But "Angel Echoes", like most of the record that follows, is strangely moving in spite of its limited toolkit. After it ends abruptly and tumbles into the brilliant "Love Cry", a much more drawn-out and darkly shaded tune, it starts to become clear that another inspiration could be in play: the music produced by Hebden's schoolmate, Will Bevan aka Burial.
The pair collaborated on an intriguing two-track 12" last year, and if nothing else, Hebden's consistent return here to the texture and expressive possibilities of vocal fragments forms a clear link. "Sing", halfway through the record, is the most affecting and flat-out gorgeous example of the technique, as it laces the propulsive housey rhythmic thrust-- the push and pull of the kick and snare, bits of percussion, a short and repetitive synth motif-- with an alien, genderless voice that curls into a kind of weary howl. The effect reminds me of nothing so much as the "ah-AH-ah" vocals that snake through Aphex Twin's immortal "Windowlicker", and Hebden's processing gives "Sing" a similar sense of simultaneous grounding and weird dislocation.
Hebden has studied Aphex Twin carefully, having made his first splash in 1999 when he remixed a track from SAW II for one of Warp's 10th Anniversary compilations. Elsewhere on Love, you can find the creative melding of beats and classical minimalism that producers like Richard James and Nobukazu Takemura were exploring in the 90s. An array of metallic percussion pops up, organized into hypnotic grid-like patterns that gradually build and change over the track's duration. The voice sample in "Circling" doesn't appear until two-thirds of the way through the track's runtime, and it brings with it a cluster of bright electronic tones that call to mind the iconic pulse of Reich/Riley minimalism. The loping, sleepy "This Unfolds" has several layers of quietly twinkling sound happening at once, and you can shift your perception to follow along with any one of them or simply let the whole thing wash over you. Though it mostly lays back and doesn't waste any notes, There Is Love in You always has just enough going on to pull you back in any time you feel like relegating it to the background. It works best taken whole, rather than broken into individual tracks.
Whenever There Is Love in You comes to the closing "She Just Likes to Fight", a quietly pretty instrumental built around a straightforward guitar melody, I start thinking of Hebden's early days. There's a moment at the 2:18 mark where the music pauses for a moment as a tapped guitar harmonic rings out, and it brings me back for a split-second to "Harmonics", the acoustic guitar instrumental that is the one Fridge tune I love without reservation. It's such a basic and elemental thing, the overtones of one metal guitar string vibrating in place, but in the right hands it becomes a tool that can be used to deliver a surprising blast of feeling. The simple power of sound is something this guy has understood from the beginning.
— Mark Richardson, January 25, 2010