Album Review: Four Tet – Pink

[Text Records; 2012]

Kieran Hebden has been quite busy as of late. Since dropping 2010’s still stunning There Is Love In You, he has joined forces with Burial and Thom Yorke, curated a festival with Caribou, released an album in the Fabriclive series, and churned out multiple singles. Pink, Hebden’s sixth record as Four Tet and first on his self-starter Text Records, feels like a casualty of this current adventurousness, fragmented by the eclecticism of his other endeavours. It never really overcomes the fact that it is, in reality, just a conveniently clustered set of singles. These are snapshots taken in between other goings on, a fact that is underscored by Pink‘s lack of artistic focus.

“Peace for Earth” and “Lion” are the only two previously unreleased tracks on Pink, the other six have been issued over the past eighteen months. If you follow Hebden closely, this really isn’t worth your attention. At an excessive running time of eleven minutes “Peace For Earth” secludes itself in an odd, tuneless alcove. “Lion” takes an elastic chirp and lays it over midnight-black synthesizers and a plain kick-snare beat. Unlike “Peace for Earth,” it manages to keep its composure for its entire run time, and while it doesn’t exactly trip up, it doesn’t peak like you might expect it to.

The quality of the music on Pink varies considerably. It never attains, nor reaches for, the sense of unity that has graced Hebden’s other records. Every track has a mind of its own, a unique set of rules and constraints; and they do feel constrained sometimes. This is more Ringer than Rounds; multilayered melodic barbs are routed by busy drum loops and synthesizer buzzing, which appreciably dampens the music’s expressive impact. It feels empty much more often than it should. Take “128 Harps,” which brings in a music box melody by way of “My Angel Rocks Back and Forth.” Instead of being given some breathing room, it’s smothered by a choppy, gratuitous vocal sampleOn the other end of the spectrum is “Ocoras.” It practically demands the use of a strobe light, but aside from the wooly percussion it’s pretty meager.

Four Tet typically operates within a more cerebral arm of the IDM machine, but Pink is a very physical being. It pulls from glitch, UK bass and dubstep, and often frames them in aggressive or unflattering ways. This isn’t the same Four Tet where a new texture or loop sneaks in every four bars; this is club music with a gentle touch, or maybe laptop music with a few drinks in its system. “Locked” deploys a high-flying keyboard in between about five different percussive rhythms and bloated bass. These elements don’t mesh so much as bounce off of one another, maintaining a distance for an bubbly, jazzy encounter.

Pink does end up managing to cut through some of the yellow tape that it has put up for itself. There are a number of noteworthy moments: the flickering celestial drone on “Jupiters,” the spiky vocal furnishings that nestle in perfectly between “Pyramids”’ microhouse grooves, the eerie synth whistling of “Pinnacles” (which brings to mind “A Smile Around the Face”). Hebden’s knack for getting the listener lost in all of his ideas materializes in places, but that’s quite different from making them want to stay. History will not judge this as a Four Tet LP. It’s an intermittently engaging set of ephemeral longevity, ultimately a little too nonspecific and slipshod to be considered alongside the rest of his full-length catalogue.