Is Kieran Hebden living out a producer’s traditional career arc – in reverse? Not for Mr. Four Tet a handful of timely bangers knocked out on a Playstation in a bedsit, a gentle rinsing from the majors chasing ever diminishing returns on the genre du jour, followed by a retreat to fuss free, purposeful DJ tracks and finally a string of worthy, thoughtful, jazz-inspired 12s that only a handful of DJs play and even less Wire readers consume? OK, so this is more than a little reductive but Hebden, it seems, is heading in the other direction. Having started out with experimental post-rockers Fridge he went on to fix gamelans, thumb pianos and acoustics to crunchy hip-hop, invented ‘folktronica’ (ew!) in the process and established himself as the go-to guy for any given ‘out there’ indie remix. Last time we checked – this would be his headline set at Green Man Festival last year, sonic compass admittedly slightly adrift following 12 hours of weirdy beardy folk – he was playing what sounded to all intents and purposes like melodic, but indisputably functional, dance-to tech house. Go figure.
Hebden though, happily acknowledges the influence club orientated music has had on his sound since ‘Everything Ecstatic’ in 2005, having held down two London residencies in that time; one in the lounge at the End with Border Community and one of his own at Plastic People – name checked and eulogised here with a bubbling, bucolic jam all of its own. The resultant ‘There is Love In You’ – his 6th full length album, whilst hardly stuffed with thumping peak timers, is easily his grooviest and most accessible to date. The pastoral textures, impossibly humanistic programming and unerring melodic suss is still unmistakably Hebden, but apparitions of contemporary house and techno are everywhere: explicitly in 110-120 BPM tempo and soft 4/4 chug that underpins many of these tracks and implicitly in the synth led instrumentation and tumbling arpeggios of ‘Circling’ and scrambled glitch of ‘Sing’. Furthermore, where on previous albums musical themes might spill across the usual 8 or 16 bar mesh, drifting amongst each other like bursts of pollen scattering to the wilds, the approach here is altogether more metred; tracks unpack themselves succinctly and methodically and set amongst his busy, knitted percussion it feels like there’s more space for the music itself to breathe. It’s less demanding than ‘Rounds’ and ‘Pause’ but no less engrossing. Only on closer ‘She Just Likes to Fight’ does the 4/4 kick seem incongruent, heavy handed even alongside its mellifluous guitars, chimes and chattering percussion and the feeling is that Hebden could mash ballroom and reggae together and it would still sound effortless and sophisticated. Wherever is he heading next one wonders?