There is such a thing as too much innovation. Artists known for it are often faced with fans getting accustomed to their commitment to change. What’s left to do when pushing the envelope becomes commonplace? Take a wrong step, and get you panned. Look back on the past, and complaints of laziness arise. Such accusations have been levied against Beck at various points his career. After years of jumping across genres with impunity, Beck released a pair of albums that didn’t vault him outside of his musical comfort zone for once. The critical response was unjustly lukewarm. Four Tet has made a similar move with There Is Love in You. Four Tet’s latest album finds him raiding his back catalog for inspiration after a decade of wild-eyed experimentation. No one’s gonna accuse this guy of coasting, though; there are definitely some gems in the cupboard.
It’s hard to believe that almost five years have passed since the last proper Four Tet album. Sonic architect Kieran Hebden has hardly used the downtime to rest on his laurels. Since 2005’s Everything Ecstatic, he has released two EPs, hooked up with legendary New York drummer Steve Reid for four albums of spaced-out jazz improvisation, compiled multiple mix CDs, teamed up with high school pal Burial for a split 12-inch, reunited with his old post-rock outfit Fridge for an album, and remixed artists on both sides of the Atlantic. Hebden rarely stays in the same artistic space for long, and if he didn’t commit to documenting his travels every few months, we’d never keep up. He’s settled down a bit for his fifth album, which isn’t so much a move in any one direction as it is a culmination of lessons learned over a decade of music production.
Opener “Angel Echoes,” with its stratified layers of maudlin vocals, is full of the sampledelic wizardry that made Rounds a success. “Angel Echoes” and “She Just Likes to Fight” nick the crisp drum sound that gave Everything Ecstatic so much of its immediacy. The pulsating sorta-house Hebden turns out on “Love Cry” and “Sing” would have been right at home on The Ringer, his closest dalliance with outright dance music. “This Unfolds” owes its cluttered instrumentation to the kitchen-sink aesthetic that made Pause such a grab bag. “Reversing” and its manic percussion suggest that Hebden picked up a few tricks sparring with Reid. There Is Love in You doesn’t part with the sound of its predecessors as much as his previous endeavors have, but to view the album as a retrenchment into familiar sounds is to miss out on the beauty of the thing.
The album is a fantastic voyage, starting off in the twilight of a sweaty club night hinted at in the muted 3 a.m. disco of the first two songs. Mid-album, things lift off with “Circling,” which kicks off a side of exploratory psychedelia, a hazy half-hour trip that peaks with “This Unfolds,” slowly coming down with the reflective benediction, “She Just Likes to Fight.” There Is Love in You is expertly sequenced, played, and produced from start to finish. It’s the work of a restlessly creative auteur circling back and turning out his most confident, definitive work to date. Four Tet doesn’t break any new ground here, but this album is proof that he doesn’t need to.