Foxy Digitalis readers will surely be familiar with the work of Canadian Tim Hecker. My first exposure was 2002’s “My Love is Rotten to the Core”, his successful paean to Van Halen. After that I heard the following year’s excellent “Radio Amor” on the influential Mille Plateaux label. Unfortunately, I got sidetracked and somehow missed out on hearing “Harmony in Ultraviolet” (word is that it’s a keeper) and probably a few others too. That Hecker continues to make relevant records today and is still able to make such a splash in the listening community suggests that he’s one of the handful of recording artists active in the ambient and laptop worlds who rises above the fray. I suspect his name will be among those remembered as a leader in the field many years from now.
Listening to his latest release, seven or eight years later, it’s a little harder to be excited about the abstract dreaminess, the hissy synth washes, the occasional glitchiness, and the ebow-like trails of sound that dominate his work. But even if it takes a little more energy and generosity to get into, it’s through no fault of Hecker’s – it’s simply that we’ve heard so much of this type of music already, and the challenge of making a distinct impression is incredibly daunting in 2009. That said, it’s worth trying to shut off all preconceptions and filters and take his music for the sheer beauty it has to offer. Like Christian Fennesz, Hecker seems to travel in a hazy, melodically and harmonically rich sound world that effortlessly lulls the listener into a place of calm and relaxation. And yet, while that may sound trite and suggest that the music is just an antidote to the stresses of modern living, there’s also an earthiness and complexity to Hecker’s ideas that make this recording worth listening to.
The easy journalistic shortcut would be to call his music cinematic and haunting, but that would be a simplification and a disservice. The real question about music like this is what does ambient music have to say in 2009? Of course, it’s not necessarily fair to expect artists to make grand aesthetic statements and represent all that a particular subgenre has to offer. But for a style of music which has been so thoroughly explored, one begins to wonder if the canon has already been determined. Is it really possible to say something new, and is that something worth saying in the first place? When does genre boredom set in? One suspects that Hecker sees his work outside of any genre limitations, and he may not care at all about placing his music in a position to make statements. He certainly seems to sidestep such questions here, instead aiming merely to produce a thing of beauty. And to that end, he has definitely succeeded. Like Fennesz, Hecker seems to achieve more when he works with dissonance and tension as key ingredients, rather than sticking with pleasing and pretty harmonies. That’s not to say this record covers any particularly dark territory. It is focused and probing at times, while expansive and epic at others. Droning keyboards, ringing overtones, gently blurred effects, and huge spacious caverns of reverb all come together in surprisingly compelling ways here. Like any truly good instrumental record, there’s an effective narrative flow at work here, and a sense of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The places where it works best for me involve crackling fuzz, discordant sounds, intersecting melodic fragments, and a sense of disorientation or hallucination. Interestingly, I also found that it works far better at loud volumes, where its effects are more immersive and all consuming.
I’d love to see Hecker create a cosmic, psychedelic masterpiece that extends beyond ambient seeks to take his current oeuvre into new places that are bewildering, confusing, and truly transporting. Yet I realize that’s my own personal bias seeping in, and others may go to Hecker for the enveloping sounds of consonance and warmth. And despite the critique, what he’s accomplished with this record is indeed remarkable – it’s a perfectly lovely recording that easily holds its own with numerous standouts of the genre. What more can we ask? 8/10 -- Eric Hardiman (15 April, 2009)