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Baby Beats

By Josh Potter

Four Tet

There Is Love in You

A computer-music professor once told me never to use visual or narrative metaphors to describe what was happening in a piece of electronic music. The rationale was that, as soon as you assign a sound symbolic quality, you lose the ability to interact with it on the raw level of timbre. This is useful advice for aspiring producers and avant musicians, but it deliberately ignores one of music’s most enchanting capabilities: the suggestive and synesthetic power to render a sonic world complete with visual and narrative associations.

Despite his proven aptitude in experimental circles, Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) takes full advantage of this power on There Is Love in You. Long regarded as a premier electronic producer, deftly navigating the cusp between IDM, jazz, and indie rock, Hebden has spent the past decade jumping between seemingly unrelated projects, such as remixing and touring with Radiohead and improvising with Sun Ra drummer Steve Reid. Along the way, a commitment to organic source material (live drums, acoustic instruments, analog hiss) earned him the billing “folktronica.” While generally ridiculous, the label hinted at something central to Hebden’s approach: Despite their complexity, every one of his tracks appeal to something basic, accessible and human.

There Is Love in You may be his most accessible set yet. During the time of its recording, Hebden was playing late-night sets at the London club Plastic People. What resulted was, fundamentally, a dance record, with most tracks built from or resolving to a steady four-on-the-floor pulse. Due to a brilliant sense of patience and restraint, the beats are insistent yet delicate, never resorting to the “untzy” muscularity of techno, or glitchy discombobulation. Instead, simple drums, keyboards, vocal snippets and computer bubbles get stacked to hypnotic effect, occasionally nesting a simple melody played on, say, handbells.

Track titles like “Circling,” “Reversing,” and “This Unfolds” function more like the titles of abstract paintings than pop music, simply describing the dynamic on display and, perhaps, violating that professor’s rule of thumb. Within the act of circling or reversing, Hebden’s textures come to life, his twinkling keyboards personified, tiny landscapes and dramas animated. And with “Pablo’s Heart,” the pulse is all the more affecting when you know it derives from an unborn baby.

Yeasayer

Odd Blood

With Odd Blood, it’s tempting to say that Yeasayer “pulled a Veckatimest.” Much in the way Grizzly Bear followed up the considerable promise of early experimental records with last year’s art-pop magnum opus of that title, Yeasayer seemed to use 2007’s psychedelic All Hour Cymbals as a warm-up for this, their more accessible, consistent, hook-laden and buzzworthy record.

The Grizzly Bear comparison ends there, though, as Odd Blood is, at its core, a dance record par excellence. Recorded in a Woodstock house rented from studio drummer Jerry Marotta, the album uses that post-DIY, everything-and-the-sound-of-the-dripping-kitchen-sink mentality, but in the service of infectious melodies and retro dance beats. In fact, it may be more accurate to say the band “pulled an Oracular Spectacular,” as, like that MGMT debut, Odd Blood is a seemingly endless collection of glitzy Prince-inspired electro dance singles.

“Ambling Alp” has, somewhat arbitrarily, emerged as the album’s first single, featuring a faux-reggae UB40-ish chorus and Chris Keating’s pining vocals. But, truth is, almost any track could serve as the centerpiece: “Madder Red” with its cascading oohs; “Rome” in its Beyonce-baiting; “Mondegreen” and its TV on the Radio-esque handclaps and horns. “O.N.E.” uses ’80s-vintage electro Africana (not unlike the Talking Heads’ “I Zimbra”) as the backdrop for a song about how confusing human attraction can be, striking a strange balance between cold, synthetic kitsch and warm emotion.

The band have been frank about their intention to craft a sterile sci-fi record that seems to “take place in an off-world colony sometime after the Singularity,” but what’s remarkable is how Odd Blood never feels heady or alien. Instead, it’s a record with real physical appeal that will, no doubt, serve as a preferred party mix for much of 2010.

—Josh Potter


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