Tim Hecker – Love Streams
Montreal's ambient drone wunderkind returns with his eighth album, and first for 4AD.
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.
He offered a similarly inconclusive definition for the title of his sixth album Ravedeath, 1972, although since that album quite literally felt like an ornately ceremonial funeral for ‘dance’ music’s hedonism, soundtracked by its death rattle, it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about allusive nomenclature.
By the same token, Love Streams feels suggestive of a dichotomy between the emotionally pure and the technologically stark; a coexistence of two things whose relationship constantly teeters between awkward codependence and flat-out repulsion. Kara-Lis Coverdale and Grímur Helgason return, having lent their respective piano and woodwind skills to Hecker’s previous album Virgins, but although their contributions are once again left to disintegrate into processed fug, their acoustic naturalism is more immediately apparent: the breathy bursts of flute scattered across Obsidian Counterpoint’s chattering synth feel unsettled somehow, as though struggling to find a way in. Beautiful in its least euphoric sense, the effect is also gently unnerving.
The album delves deep into your psyche. Castrati Stack’s mournful presence – almost Vangelis-esque, albeit tempered by glitching hiss – burrows into a burgeoning sense of doom, while your 21st century ennui is played upon by the clanks of a high-speed train accelerating towards you, or the desperate shuffle of a thousand filing cabinets opening and closing with mounting urgency. It’s not just the meshing of organic sentiment with cyber-futurism that takes your breath away here; it’s the way Hecker articulates the sensation of an amplified post-postmodern angst in a manner both captivating and profound.
Elsewhere, there are human voices (courtesy of the Icelandic Choir Ensemble), deployed more overtly than on any of the Montreal composer’s previous albums yet (sometimes) almost entirely dismantled. The sliced vocal of Music of the Air gives off a whiff of desolate frustration, while the accumulating drones that underpin the piece become a solemn murmur; a wordless prayer based on desperation more than faith.
The music is more spacious, perhaps more tuneful and certainly less drone-heavy than those immersed in his output might expect, but the constantly alternating tension and magnetism between the electronic and the organic leave us pondering which is driving which.
Ultimately, Love Streams posits more questions than it answers, and though approachable in the same sense that earlier offerings might seem challenging, it takes a few listens to even begin to peel back its multi-layered complexity. It’s a triumph, though: a dense, paranoid and phenomenally pretty exploration of post-millennial wonder that’ll keep you coming back, even as it fills the pit of your stomach with dread.