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Tim Hecker Revitalizes Drone Music on “Love Streams”

| Thursday, April 14, 2016

t_hecker_bannerLindsey Meyers

Love streams. Loud and decaying, the alluvial phosphorescence of neon. On the riverbank, the souls of gleaming children voice their piping organs, breaking down in tenor tones.

This is the atmosphere of Tim Hecker’s latest solo work, “Love Streams.” For the uninformed, Hecker is one of the foremost ambient drone producers working today. The genre’s sound is characterized by dusky and dense electronic arrangements that pop, swell, and deteriorate throughout each track – think William Basinski on a goth stint.

At least, this was the tone of Hecker’s previous works, “Ravedeath, 1972” and “Virgins”, albums that reimaged liturgical instrumentals by sublimating them via drone. The aesthetic was divine, and divinely dark. Hecker’s follow-up is not altogether different. His creative approach has not drastically changed, but the tone of “Love Streams” is indisputably in contrast with its predecessor.

“Love Streams” was, like “Virgins,” recorded in a studio in Reykjavik, Iceland, with the help of fellow electronic luminary Ben Frost. But this time, the central subject of the work is not the haunted piano of “Virgins,” but the brightness of the human voice. For this purpose, Hecker recruited the Icelandic Choir Ensemble, whose pseudo-angelic voices he manipulates on this LP. The result sounds as oblique as any of his albums, but the semblance of a human presence on this work creates a dynamic that moves away from the abstraction that has characterized his previous works.

Standout tracks “Music of the Air” and “Voice Crack” best capitalize on the disorienting qualities of vocal intercalation and are as a result the strongest and most evocative on the album. The pieces are infused with an aura of chaos that is simultaneously chaotic and uplifting, yet paradoxically, chiming neon synth-pads instill them with a sublime peace.

Warmth is such an essential player in the mood shift of Hecker’s latest work the tracks that don’t incorporate a semblance of human presence are — while still skillful and compelling — much less distinct from the sounds of his previous records. “Live Leak Instrumental,” for example, could easily have been a sequel to “Stab Variation” from “Virgins,” with electronic plucks substituted for orchestral sounds. Nonetheless, Hecker’s mastery of his craft prevents any of the tracks on “Love Streams” from sounding repetitive or drab. For an artist working in a genre whose output is consistently marred by redundancy and even some measure of creative bankruptcy, Hecker’s accomplishment is particularly impressive.

Ambient music — and ambient drone all the more — tends to polarize its audience. To some it is the electronic equivalent of classical, to others it is nothing but elevator music. But on “Love Streams,” Tim Hecker is able to recreate himself sufficiently to widen his appeal to people who may have found his previous work “too creepy.” On the contrary, the fluorescent heat that radiates from his latest work makes for a listen as calming as it is dynamic and engaging. As it is less “classical” than “Virgins,” there is no risk of it being confused with Muzak.

Of course, stylistic changes notwithstanding, Hecker could have done more to recreate himself musically. Yet while it could have been interesting to see an entirely different side of Hecker, it would be unfair to say that such a metamorphosis were necessary. Even while exploring more or less the same territory for the length of his career, Hecker has proven his ability to consistently wow. Why say no to more?

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