Loose-limbed percussion, creeping polyrhythms, cavernous bass. Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) has constructed an unexpectedly cohesive quasi-album from the string of isolated singles he’s released since 2010’s There Is Love In You. The lightly flanged guitars are back, with tasteful vengeance; new to the scene is the occasional foray into kosmische territories. These songs are long, but they don’t overestimate the listener’s attention span. New textures swirl in like migratory birds; on the closing track, there is even ersatz birdsong.
The collection, Pink, is bookended by jazzy numbers, but they’re suitably distinct. “Locked” opens proceedings with a motorik chug, a lilting synth motif, occasionally burbling electronics and West African percussion. At the other end, “Pinnacles” is like an extended, freshened-up retread of “She Just Wants to Fight”. Light smatterings of lounge piano interject a gutsy bassline and a limber, multi-faceted rhythm which subtly shifts from the hotel bar to the dancefloor. In the final two minutes, Hebden undoubtedly kills it with an insistent French touch pulse, under which runs a barely-there arpeggiated twinkle.
In between, there are nods to the Four Tet of old, and also to the club nights and record collections Hebden now inhabits. “Lion” borrows half a drum track from Burial (the main movement of “Jupiters” goes one better, and just pockets 2-step at the first attempt), punctuates it with foreboding bass stabs, and even throws in some vibraphone that’s wandered in from a Tortoise (or Fridge?) offcut. “128 Harps” certainly has harps, wafted in from the last decade, but also teasing snatches of vocal samples, and a jumpy, athletic beat which is altogether more contemporary.
“Pyramid” might be the centrepiece, its mutated vocal sample (accusingly, “I remember how you walked away”) recalling “Love Cry” but also moving restlessly onward. The arrangement is spare: nimble bass; a half-time interpolation of dreamy keys; occasional skittish percussion over a relentless beat; a false fadeout. There isn’t much to it, but it feels important, and liable to blow your mind when pumped out of a more public soundsystem—or, less charitably, soundtracking television coverage of an extreme sport.
Elsewhere, there are moments of vast, beatless majesty. The overture to “Jupiters” is analog and strange; “Peace For Earth” is eleven-odd minutes of interstellar drift, and sounds like a more earthy Oneohtrix Point Never (not a contradiction). The second half gets more intricate and balletic, and might see Hebden compared to the best of the modernist composers—Reich, or Greenwood perhaps.
Less synthetic than There Is Love In You, Pink is a neat précis of Four Tet releases in the two intervening years. Handily, it follows the narrative arc of Hebden’s best actual-albums, and points to several interesting directions the next one could take—if anyone can get its creator to settle down for long enough. The first decade of Four Tet saw Hebden determinedly beat his own path through the thicket of electronic music (leading to the unfortunate tag of ‘folktronica’). In this new one, he’s inhabiting more textures, tempos and scenes of his acolytes, but without losing much originality. He’s now more of an alchemist, indebted to the pick-n-mix approach that served his late mentor, Steve Reid, so well.