The dominant narrative surrounding Pink, from where I'm sitting at least, is Kieran Hebden's newfound embrace of dance music. Where past Four Tet albums have been strictly long-playing affairs, this eight-track release is a compilation of sorts, gathering together a series of vinyl singles released on Hebden's Text imprint over the past year or so.
Of course, medium and content don't necessarily dictate one another, but as any vinyl pontificator will tell you there is an important reciprocal relationship between the two. The fact that these tracks saw their first life on wax, in batches of ones and twos, to be listened to in isolation, or perhaps in a DJ mix, looms large over this record. As a result this doesn't feel like a deeply personal journey through some fantastical sonic space—instead it's comparatively bare, utilitarian, even greyscale at points. It's rare to find an LP that breaks the one hour mark while simultaneously justifying doing so. This isn't one of them.
But let's talk about the positives, because there are plenty. Hebden—much like Dan Snaith with his outings under the Daphni moniker—seems to really get house music in a way the serried ranks of Beatport clones never will. Take the opening of first track "Locked," a good minute or so of drums and nothing else—and what drums, ramshackle loops thrown together with a haphazard precision born of killer intuition. Or the muscular but tumbledown underpinnings of "Lion," whose surface is pitted with tiny, irresistibly funky percussive tics—microhouse gone free-range, godlike precision exchanged for playful improvisation. Or "Jupiters" which, after a dull spell in twinkly IDM territory, slips into a rugged, loose-limbed 2-step beat, its bassline snarling with murky, tape-fugged menace (the whole album is mixed with minimal compression and even less hi-end, as if it's some unearthed Nu Groove DAT from late '80s).
In some other universe Hebden makes straight up dance floor bangers, has a handful of coveted twelves on L.I.E.S. and Sex Tags Mania—and almost certainly doesn't make a living doing it. Because, of course, there's something more to Hebden, that singular quality which enables a producer to weather the decades, scenes and trends, embracing change whilst retaining a vivid sense of identity. It's the auteurish urge to hold yourself apart from the crowd, engaging with the outside world only as a means to absorb its innovations into your own unique language.
Unfortunately, in the case of Pink, that language reaches an often uneasy compromise with its source material. For every "Ocoras"—whose dry, clipped pads roll on with the hypnotic ceaselessness of the finest techno—there will be a "128 Harps," where Hebden's trademark cosseted IDM-isms are dropped wholesale over a garage framework with predictably un-incendiary results; or, a "Lion," whose ponderous synth loop wends its stately way in and out of the foreground with disheartening inevitability, unmoved by the infectiously playful rhythms surrounding it.
The album's extremes are revealing. "Pyramid" tackles house tropes with the most bombast—a tightly snipped a capella here, a subtly funky electro bassline there—and is the least convincing thing on the record. "Peace for Earth," meanwhile, is the true outlier, a scintillating 11-minute exercise in minimalist phasing played out with starry-eyed synth sequences, glistening like pebbles in the dark.
But on the whole, Pink sits in between: not sonically and melodically rich enough to be digested with the bedroom fervour of, say, Rounds, but somehow not fully metamorphosed into whatever new form Hebden is pushing towards. Nobody's doubting the man's incredible skill as a producer, and the delicacy, intelligence and maturity of his ideas. But here, alchemy isn't quite achieved: lead is still, for the most part, lead.