There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Two records ago, Kieran Hebden began to push his solo project, the then still-messy and occasionally slow Four Tet, toward something a bit more cohesive and uptempo. The result was “As Serious as Your Life,” a breakbeat-heavy track that busted out of the middle of 2003’s Rounds, his third Four Tet record, and turned his previously scattered sense of melody into something that actually resembled a hook. Eventually, that song became the centerpiece of a live set that seemed constructed to shake off any lingering bedroom-recording pitfalls. Expansive, rhythmless, collagelike explorations? They were gone, replaced by Hebden’s newfound affinity for tunes that could be called Dance Music—without the Intelligent preface. Next came 2005’s Everything Ecstatic, full of club-worthy numbers that, while still referencing Hebden’s affinity for out music, more generally served as a collection of weirdo ass-shaking hits. Well, not hits exactly, but you get the picture. Now, almost five years later, comes There Is Love in You. And though this recording sometimes suggests a return to its producer’s more melodically expansive tendencies, it also features some of Hebden’s most well-crafted stabs at the minimalist techno he was always meant to create. Take “Love Cry,” the album’s lead single. After a minute-plus wombidillic intro—designed, it seems, to allow for easy turntable transition—the thing launches forward with a set of beats as clean and focused as anything Hebden has ever done. As it grooves forward, the track picks up momentum, first mixing in vocals—a Hebden first—and then a repetitive synth-bass line that calls to mind some of the better, odd-disco-rooted techno minimalism of recent years. With “Love Cry,” Hebden’s got himself an honest-to-God hit. “Sing” follows a similar path. There, again, Hebden finds his focus in stripped-down beats. And though the song recalls some of the more glitchy moments of Everything Ecstatic, it’s evolved here into something accessible and less harsh—a fact that leaves room for lots of vocals and melodic repetitions that vaguely suggest Afropop. Unfortunately, Love isn’t a totally forward-moving effort. “This Unfolds,” “Reversing,” and “She Just Likes to Fight” all suggest a return, in some degree, to the more meandering Four Tet, which dragged down Rounds and 1999’s Dialogue with melodies that went nowhere. In that respect, it seems Hebden has forgotten the lessons he learned for Everything Ecstatic. Still, the new album is an impressive piece of work. And what’s good—the Hebden-weirded yet movement-demanding numbers—is very, very good. Freed from the constraints of Everything Ecstatic (widely reported to be a concerted effort to disprove the notion that dance music is dead), Four Tet has still found an excuse to be focused. The result may earn him a few hits—even if he doesn’t really want them.