Tim Hecker - Virgins

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  • Tim Hecker's music has always worked best at high volume—it makes for more tension when things go quiet. This was especially true of his last album, Ravedeath, 1972, which saw him make incredible use of a church organ to push his bass obsession to its limits. In making Virgins, his seventh solo album, Hecker recorded with a group of live musicians for the first time, resulting in a much more diverse set of sounds for the Canadian artist to work with. Where his past records have been purposefully droning and indistinct, here the sounds of strings, pianos and woodwind instruments cut through the noise. There is a new sense of clarity and precision. Hecker's songs now feel like architectural structures. They're spacious and strong, built to last on solid foundations. The epic, sky-scraping rise to nothing of "Live Room" is soul-stirring, its human breathing and rattling of bows becoming one with thunder-and-lightning electronics. You can hear the forging together of natural and unnatural in the way "Virginal II" shifts from its initial Steve Reich piano into a blizzard of reverberation and then through the strange, raw synth tones. There is so much happening, it's almost difficult to keep up. That Hecker manages to layer such full, independent sounds over and across each other without ever losing the emotional heart of what he's building is evidence of his increasingly unique understanding of texture and mood. One central aspect of Hecker's music is that nothing goes uncorrupted. Outwardly beautiful tracks like "Black Refraction" become undermined, their constituent parts slipping against each other strangely. The pure tones of classical instruments are sampled and looped, made to feel inhuman as they cut sharply from note to note. The noises and distortions don't assault, they insinuate, poisoning slowly instead of going for the jugular. Still, the mood is not as claustrophobic as it was on Ravedeath, 1972, which relied on its domineering organ work for density. Here we find brief moments of light and space pushing the clouds back. "Stigmata II" works as a palate cleanser near the end, a brief and wavering respite from the tumult. Hecker's constructions never collapse into simple harmonies or traditional crescendos for the sake of emotional impact. Instead, they build awkwardly towards strange and jagged peaks before crumbling into patches of desolation that are both beautiful and painful. His tracks are not bloodless academic experiments or hacked-out splurges of noise; they shiver and howl with a passion that challenges the shapes we expect such emotion to take. There is a kind of pure, cathartic rage in Virgins and it leaves moments of intense peace in its wake.
  • Tracklist
      01. Prism 02. Virginal I 03. Radiance 04. Live Room 05. Live Room Out 06. Virginal II 07. Black Refraction 08. Incense at Abu Ghraib 09. Amps, Drugs, Harmonium 10. Stigmata I 11. Stigmata II 12. Stab Variation