It's strange to think of Four Tet as one of today's most important creators of dance music. Even when taking into consideration his impeccably crafted and loving tribute to London's Plastic People club, 2010's There Is Love in You, as well as his collaborations with fellow heavyweights Burial and Thom Yorke, the artist born Kieran Hebden has always been a masterful musician and producer whose style of electronic music has often sounded more like it was inspired by the dancefloor than actually meant for it. Although it wasn't clear at the time, things began to change with the release of Four Tet's Fabriclive mix in 2011, which featured a percussion-heavy exclusive called "Locked." Proving not to be an anomaly in his repertoire, Hebden soon started dropping solo 12"s via his Text label, all of them boasting similarly beat-centric tunes. As months passed and the releases piled up, each one bolstered the notion that something big was around the corner for Four Tet, some kind of sea change in his work. Now, we have the eight-track Pink LP, the culmination of Hebden's recent run of club-appropriate singles and easily one of the best albums to be heard this year.
Versatility has long been Four Tet's major strength. The way he can deftly jump and weave around jazz, house, Kraut, ambient, hip-hop, techno, folk, and beyond while maintaining a singular and recognizable identity is key to the producer's success, and that skill is on full display throughout Pink. Though "Jupiters" opens with a nearly two-minute suite of calming and starry synth notes, the melodies gradually fade, and are replaced by a clip-clopping beat with an oversized kick pattern billowing at its core. Hebden's reveal is that these two disparate soundscapes are actually part of the same world, and their alignment is what moves his track to its apex. The same kind of juxtaposition appears on "Pyramid," Pink's arresting standout and ultimate pick for the dancefloor. Four Tet spends the first three minutes or so working out a sticky groove that boasts an unprecedentedly massive bassline, over which he toys with a pitched-down vocal loop reminding us, "I remember how you walked away." He eventually dips into less-seductive territory with the introduction of a few twinkling keys and emotive low end drones, but once again renders these contrasting moods in parallel with the soulful voice and constant rhythmic shuffle.
Much of the same can be said about Pink as a whole. Despite its origins as DJ mix exclusives and viable club singles, Four Tet's latest LP is very much an album, and a masterfully arranged one at that. "Locked" is unmatched as the record's lead tune; its pattering and patient onset allows new listeners time to settle in to the dusty milieu of drum samples and hypnotic undercurrents before Hebden introduces each part of the track's impressive arsenal of instrumentation—ambling flute melodies, bass plucks, warped guitar riffs, synth flourishes, dollops of guttural low end, and all manners of percussion—piece by piece. Even at its most crowded, the song remains understated and warm, a welcoming introduction. As the record proceeds, Pink continues sharing the many forms which Four Tet's hyperreal, finely detailed production work can take. Some cuts, like "Lion"—with its groaning bassline and powerfull 4/4—and the mechanical "Ocoras," sound completely foreign to Hebden's extensive musical past, while "128 Harps" is yet another homage to the delicate string instrument he unquestionably loves—albeit one carried by a more brazen beat than ever before. The excellent "Pinnacles" explicitly returns to the artist's once-prevalent love for jazz, utilizing the loose rattle of a stand-up bass and some bright piano chords to build a jangly house groove that's about as classic as they come.
Pink marks a new page in Four Tet's decade-plus career, an outright shift from creating club-inspired electronic music to making actual club-ready tracks, but it's unlikely that the change would've been as successful had he not brought along his softer side. Around each of the album's steady and fast-paced rhythmic cores, Hebden wraps both his longstanding proclivity for sublime musicianship and his relatively newfound appreciation for crafting a proper choon. Even amongst seven other songs that could rightly be called "bangers" in comparison to Four Tet's previous work, it's still not beyond him to drop in a beatless, 11-and-a-half-minute synth track just before the close of his LP. "Peace for Earth" isn't just a palate cleanser, it's a pure and beautifully rendered representation of how much the producer is still working on his own terms, never allowing his music to be any single thing at any given point. It gives the album a bit of wiggle room. Maybe Pink is merely a waypoint in a constantly winding musical career, or maybe this is everything that Four Tet has been building up to since setting his sights on the dancefloor. Either point could be adequately argued, but one thing is absolutely certain: Pink is a triumph and the new high-water mark for one of this generation's finest producers.