Tim Hecker – Love Streams (4AD, 2016)


Before a fall there’s a brief moment of seeming anti-gravity, as though an object is defying the laws of physics and is suspended in the air whilst the platform beneath it disappears. For that fraction of a second they’re weightless and hovering, oblivious to the growing void beneath and the imminent descent into it. Hecker captures every moment of this descent and uses a Chinese choir whose stage collapsed in 2015 as its reference material (and album artwork), bending their misfortune to suit the musically political will of his new record Love Streams, a record that continues his efforts in denouncing the state of the modern musical landscape.

Whilst we’ve seen plenty of warring aspects in his previous works, in particular the damagingly apocalyptic Ravedeath, 1972, his latest takes a new and increasingly jarring angle of attack, with many of its transitions feeling disjointed, incomplete, and only briefly reporting their dramatic moments before migrating to the next popular thing on the radar. It’s not clear at first though; “Obsidian Counterpoint” unravels in jangly percussive advancements before almost seamlessly shifting into a buzzing quicksand of electronic drones and then into the off-kilter synths and fragmentary vocals of “Music of the Air”. This first exposure to Hecker and voice is tentative initially, advancing in snippets of crystalline thrums and trills before they become more fleshed out and empowered further on, taking on the might of his idiosyncratic organ drone in anxious, pulsing shards within the stellar “Violet Instrumental I”. The air glows as this new, unstable element rallies against his old and established style, though they’re not able to penetrate the thick and erosive establishments that have since become nearly fundamental.

But this relationship becomes increasingly precipitous as time goes by, with “Castrati Stack” somehow striking a balance between thick and dense walls of obliterated sound set alongside thrumming synth tones and mournful sung arias, melancholic yet remaining indistinct. It teeters and warbles, ensconced in its pity and lost within its grey apathetic drones, continuing to segue awkwardly into the increasingly harsh final pieces.

“Voice Crack” tinkles deceptively in on harpsichord arpeggios, a classical relic progressively drowned out and supplanted by the glitched destructions of a more versatile electric guitar and the bubbling, foaming basement of miscellaneous electronica, its edges softened by harmonious but faint song that decry its fading relevance. As it shifts gears into “Collapse Sonata” we find ourselves oddly synchronised and in rhythmic lockstep for the first time before the darkness arrives, a slow-motion evolution into a foreboding drone taunt and darkling guitar pickings in our moment of suspension, followed by nothing.

Everything drains except a faint klaxon that’s quickly overwhelmed by the rush of calamitous drones to fill the void, with finalé “Black Phase” reviving some of Ravedeath‘s most potent guitar croonings and heady organ drone in this moment of true-black. The choir return for a brief period and in the few monosyllabic chants they manage to eke out there’s an unnerving similarity to the piece the Bijie choir were performing prior to their implosion, a bleak and eerie reinforcement that leaves nothing more than a spiralling descent into a heavy and shocking emptiness.

Hecker uses the fall, that rapid and unexpected acceleration into fresh space, as a powerful binding agent; the Bijie choir come to represent a certain fragility inherent within these old-fashioned and traditional musical methods, these powerfully direct human instruments rapidly supplanted by electronic machines and despairingly insincere mass-appeal forgettables. While Ravedeath was a lesson on the value stripping of physical media and the erosion of quality records in favour of piecemeal singles, Love Streams reminds us much more forcefully that our attention spans are shortening, our interests in concerns are waning, and musical values continue to be eroded, that we’re now experiencing the bottom disappearing and the accompanying downwards motion associated with forgetting our roots. Yet this is only the collapse, he says: what we’ll find on our way to the bottom may well be fuel for another time.