Album Review: Four Tet – There Is Love in You

[Domino; 2010]

Two things come to mind when “Angel Echoes,” the opener of There Is Love In You, starts to develop: one, it’s really beautiful; two, this kind of sounds like Burial. No, British producer Kieran Hebden hasn’t gone dubstep (though he has gone techno), but he’s taken in Burial’s schtick, looping, truncating and twisting recognizable vocal snippets. Hebden’s method isn’t as alien, preferring austerity and realism, pretty where Burial’s are often desperate. There’s also an element of sadness – contrary to the album’s title, the voice is softly cooing “There’s no love in you” – which infiltrates every pore of the record. On his fifth proper album, he plays around with the idea of the human, following 2008’s colder Ringer with something more ruminative and relatable. As such, it’s unlikely to scare away dedicated fans – it’s not as if he’s gone and signed to Sandwell District. There Is Love In You, if anything, feels like a concession to his Four-Tet-ness; it takes the uncharacteristically inflexible and repetitive qualities of Ringer and imbues them with the toasty cinder glow of Rounds.

There’s nothing here more worthy of intensive discussion than lead single “Love Cry,” an exhausting marathon through faint whirs and industrial hums, punctuated by an irresistible live drum loop that feels like a burst of sunshine. The drums carry with them an important sense of the human amidst the artificial sounds, providing a marked contrast to techno’s usual drum machines – and they’re rousing every single time. It becomes a true club track when Hebden introduces a sample from Cassie’s 2005 hit “Me & U” and then beats it into submission until it’s battered and abused. “Love Cry” slowly builds over its nine minutes, coasting on its own momentum – never feeling long or meandering – and it gradually intensifies, introducing more elements until it’s a whirling dervish of samples. Never mind ‘breathtaking’ – it forcefully steals the breath from your lungs and leaves you gasping for air. When it finally begins to wind down in its final minute, it’s somewhat disappointing but saves the veins in your head from bursting.

But such a focus on the single is not meant to imply any inferiority on the part of the rest of the album. Even if there’s nothing as immediately impressive or immersive as “Love Cry,” there’s plenty to get lost in and marvel at on There Is Love In You. Those live drums return on “This Unfolds,” but this time jazzy and deliberate. There’s a distinctly antiquated notion to this slow-paced track: tape hiss on the drums, detuned and decaying synths, and a first half that crawls at such a slow pace it can’t help but feel a little arcane. It speeds up – disingenuously – for its second half but quickly recedes back into its more measured origins. It’s dazzlingly colourful and conflicting over its duration, like a stained-glass window shattering and spreading multi-coloured shards all over the floor only to slowly rebuild itself until it’s as if nothing happened. The album isn’t all strictly techno either; “Sing” expertly morphs a rigid sample into a dubby beat and layers breathy, effervescent vocals on top. They’re no apathetic techno voices nor big diva house samples – they sound innocent, naive, and maybe even a little bit confused.

One thing Hebden does – and does well – is balance. He’s smart enough to keep the tracks from feeling sparse but they don’t feel claustrophobic either, no mean feat considering the amount of elements populating each track. He likes to quickly introduce new sounds and then cruelly snatch them away, allowing just a brief glimpse of what he has in mind only to reintroduce them later in an entirely different context. It’s a trick he repeats over the length of the album, but rarely does it feel gimmicky or predictable. It’s most effective when the hums are reintroduced in “Love Cry” at its climax, as if signaling that it’s time for things to start winding down, or the way that the elliptical beat in “Circling” swells and shrinks as it absorbs and loses new elements in a completely organic motion. Vocals are prominent; not exactly verse-chorus-verse, but vocals nonetheless. They almost always feel outwardly manipulated, as if Hebden is taking advantage of them, exploiting them. This creates an unnerving feeling that pervades the album, adding to the tension and subtle anguish that never seems to go away. Even the relatively cheery “This Unfolds” has a sinister underpinning, and album climax “Plastic People” – named for the club in which Four Tet had DJ residency surrounding the recording of There Is Love In You – tries desperately to recontextualize his music in a club setting (as on “Love Cry”), but instead sounds unbearably despondent, as if trying to sound happy only serves to intensify the underlying melancholia. It’s the track that feels most informed by his Burial collaboration last year – particularly the musty “Moth” – but it’s grounded by crunchy and powerful percussion rather than that track’s distant, muffled din.

All things considered, There Is Love In You is an odd little album. It’s probably too techno to be a proper crossover smash like Rounds, and too organic and experimental to be a proper techno album – and whatever it is, it’s certainly not a dance record. Instead, it occupies a difficult position somewhere in the middle, a godsend or a pointless hybrid, depending on your perspective. Four Tet’s music is glassy and earthy; it’ll dazzle you with its shiny contours while it humbles you with its firm commitment to subtlety and grounding in humanity. There’s not a trace of ambling or wandering here, and Hebden embraces a newfound pulse. Each one of these songs throbs, swells, or circles, and the effect is hypnotic if nothing else. While admittedly nothing on this album is better than “Love Cry,” it’s more a case of one track being so close to perfection that it would be unreasonable to expect the others to measure up – but it’s certainly no one hit wonder. Fans of Ringer and Everything Ecstatic will appreciate this record the most, though there is some here for Rounds fans to appreciate, and Four Tet’s music is nothing else if not affable. Even better that Hebden doesn’t come from a strictly techno background, because he knows how to structure a proper album: 47 minutes rather than 77, it breezes by without feeling too long or too short. You’ll be too wrapped up in its peculiar little universe to care about its length anyway.