Release Date: Apr 8, 2016
Record label: 4AD
We have reached the point where a new Tim Hecker album is an event, rather than simply another entry into overly crowded release schedules. Now signed to 4AD – surely the epitome of independent label as indie royalty – Canadian sound artist Hecker is finally ready to unveil Love Streams, his eighth studio album and first since 2013’s Virgins. Virgins was deceptive, comfortably managing to be Hecker’s most concrete and forceful record to date whilst simultaneously featuring his most in-depth exploration yet of the manipulation of acoustic sound.
Reconvening in Reykjavík with Virgins collaborators Ben Frost, Kara-Lis Coverdale and Grímur Helgason, Los Angeles and Montreal-based soundscapist Tim Hecker has enhanced and expanded the palette employed on that record, incorporating swaths of atomized human vocal matter into Love Streams, his latest, and first outing for the 4AD imprint. The artist began by re-interpreting snippets of the works of 15th century composer Josquin des Prez via the Melodyne software package, which were then scored by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson and performed by the Icelandic Choir Ensemble. The voices were sewn into a bright motley of keyboards and woodwinds that shimmers with an intensity as bright as the violet, blue and white hues of the album's cover art.
As music fans in the contemporary world, we have a front row seat to the multifaceted process of musical genres melting, imploding, and deconstructing themselves right before our very ears. The reasons for this hybridizing free-for-all are varied. Part of the reason is the immense proliferation of inexpensive music making technologies that would have been restricted to high-end studies in years gone by, or simply did not exist 20 years ago.
On first listen it seems far from inconsequential that Tim Hecker recorded his new album in Reykjavik, Iceland. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting that country you’ll be aware of the landscape’s singularity. It’s a mass of land borne of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates and its turbulent origins are tangible; its landscape is alive; it lives and breathes.
“I did an interview once, and the guy was expecting to meet Nosferatu or something, and I’m basically Larry David instead,” Tim Hecker laughed when I spoke with him a couple of years ago. That reporter’s expectation wasn’t unfounded; the Canadian electronic composer’s music can give off an air of mystic darkness, of elemental seriousness. But listen closely and there’s a mischievous, subversive sense of humor there too — much like Curb, the darkness is something to laugh about as frequently as it is something to be unsettled by.
At last fall's Unsound festival, in Krakow, I had the unusual experience of standing in an indoor fog bank. The visibility ended just a few feet in front of your nose; the shapes of other people drifted past while the haze pulsed in deep shades of red and blue and lavender. The music was a soup of drones, and the sound, the visuals, and the space itself blended together in such a way that you felt a little like you were floating in space.
Now signed to 4AD – a perfect match visually and sonically for the noise Tim Hecker makes – the producer has described his first release for the label as something akin to an “ancient strain of sacred music corrupted by encryption”, which pretty much renders reviews pointless. As in, it’s a damned accurate description. But there’s even more at work here.
Back in 2012, a Florida-based producer named Fredrick M. Cuevas cued an album that wound up on two opposing ends of the critical scale. It was either akin to “the pain of getting your anus waxed” or a “genuine beauty amidst impenetrable difficulty,” depending on your source. Social commentaries concerning the performer at stake might have also skewed public opinion, but either way, Farrah Abraham’s debut album sparked a conversation not only about taste negotiation and the abstraction of pop music, but also about vocal disfiguration through auto-tune to create a conflicting musical aesthetic.
Tim Hecker’s tongue might be in his cheek when he explains Love Streams is driven by “liturgical aesthetics after Yeezus”. But sacred acoustics have previously figured in this Canadian ambient sculptor’s electronic output, not least the Icelandic church organ on which Hecker recorded much of Ravedeath, 1972, his breakout work of 2011. Here, on Black Phase or, even more so, on Castrati Stack, 15th-century chorale vibes – recorded with an Icelandic choir – combine with fierce, dissonant processing.
Canadian experimental ambient artist Tim Hecker made his debut on the legendary 4AD label with one of his most ambitious works yet, 2016's Love Streams. The album includes vocals by the Icelandic Choir Ensemble with arrangements scored by Jóhann Jóhannsson, who released two albums on 4AD during the 2000s. With the exception of the occasional remix, Hecker has never incorporated vocals into his work prior to this album, and he deconstructs the human voice in a similar manner to the way he manipulates acoustic instruments.
Tim Hecker is an artist whose star has risen considerably in recent years. He began recording under his own name in the early 00s, way out in the leftfield, becoming labelmates with a selection of fearsome noise artists including Merzbow and Masonna. But since the release of his acclaimed 2011 album, Ravedeath, 1972, the Vancouver-born electronic auteur has found himself inching towards the mainstream.
Streams, as in flows forth. As in transmits online. As in whatever the fuck you want it to mean, really, because with explanations like “a riff on the ubiquity and nihilism of streaming of all forms of life,” Tim Hecker clearly isn’t too big on specifics. But then, should we expect any less? His music has always been opaque, whether comprising amorphous clouds of drone, untethered by the clarity of melody or rhythm, or fiercely juddering static.
To hear Tim Hecker put it, he's a rip-off artist. In the past he's sampled Van Halen riffs, rendering them noisy and sublime on his 2002 album, My Love Is Rotten To The Core. On Love Streams, his eighth album and first for 4AD, he's name-checking John Cassavetes' swansong film from 1984. As Hecker admitted to Rolling Stone recently, a great deal of Love Streams' sound comes from choral motifs he took from 15th century composer Josquin Des Prez.
Ambient artist Tim Hecker's albums are always indebted to the intricate ideas that inspire them. His 2011 album Ravedeath, 1972, on which a pipe organ sustained a low grumble beneath scattered synth pops and fuzz, struck a balance between Hecker’s concept and its execution, but the overwrought intellectualism of his other works has sometimes called into question whether his sound is as compelling as his vision. The initial gambit of Love Streams, Hecker's eighth album, is that he incorporates human voices into his canvas for the first time.
Though the former might be a slightly more recognizable name in North America, convention-defying experimental musicians Tim Hecker and Ben Frost have long represented two sides of the same iridescent coin. The pair have collaborated on several projects, including Hecker’s most recent solo albums (2011’s rusted Ravedeath, 1972 and 2013’s disquieting Virgins), as well as art installations and live performances. But even if Hecker and Frost weren’t pals, it would be easy to see why they complement each other so well.
The recording of Tim Hecker’s ‘Love Streams’ took place throughout 2014 and 2015 at Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavik. And naturally, its ebb and flow mimics the starkly beautiful wilderness of the Icelandic landscape. It’s a record which is at times unforgiving and foreboding. But moments of clarity aren’t absent.
Tim Hecker — Love Streams (4AD)Considered and thoughtful, the music of Canadian drone/ambient specialist Tim Hecker is designed to provoke intense feelings in the listener even as he applies his tones, textures and melodies with the precision of an engineer building a hyper-powerful microscope. But as 2011’s Ravedeath, 1972 and Virgins from 2013 proved, being somewhat studious in your approach — this album’s title, Love Streams, riffs on acclaimed director John Cassavetes’s final film — does not mean that what results will be dry and distant, and it feels that each successive release gains in emotional potency. With its focus on voices, complete with the inclusion of the Icelandic Choir Ensemble singing arrangements by Oscar-nominee Jóhann Jóhannsson, Love Streams aims viscerally for the heart and gut, and it’s to Hecker’s credit that more hits land than miss.
TIM HECKER’S eighth studio album is a hard-left departure from the sheets-of-sound ambient style he’s worked in for nearly a decade. This is the first Hecker album where you can hear the individual parts rather than taking them all together as a blur. We can hear sequencers, synth leads, voices, and a curious fake fuzz-guitar lead, all working in harmony to create something that’s a bit messier and more complex than most of his work.
Now three years removed from Virgins—his widely touted 2013 album that is as effectively confrontational as it is contemplative—artist Tim Hecker returns with his first record for 4AD. Love Streams feels decidedly distant by comparison, less an up-close pen-and-notebook study of the complexity of sound and more an experiment of how to willfully let sound seep into and fill faraway spaces. It’s almost in direct response to its predecessor: quivers of ambient electronics, woodwinds, and swirls of vocals that skim along the stratosphere like jet streams as you strain to hear what’s happening in the recesses of tracks.
Jackie McDowell connects the sounds of various folk traditions — vocal rounds, acoustic guitar, harmonium, dulcimer and the drone-producing shruti boxes of Indian music — with the meditative care of a private ceremony and the blurriness of hallucination. Based in Pittsburgh, she has put out a few dozen recordings since 2009, often on cassette or limited-quantity disc, sometimes under the name Inez Lightfoot. “New Blood Medicine” is her latest, released online earlier this year and just now available as a CD-R from the French label Wild Silence.