Tim Hecker – No Highs (Kranky, 2023)

I look around regularly at the moment and wonder to myself: what the hell is happening to this country? The potholes in my city resemble roads in some war-torn republic, not an ostensibly first world nation; our national health service is in rolling crisis; workers are striking in virtually ever sector; food and energy prices are spiralling out of control, it’s fucking dismal.

It’s hard to know how to cope with this position: do I protect my mental health by removing myself from social media and the news, but thus lose sight of the scope of the issues at hand, or do I chose to remain informed and activist, but threaten the tenuous stability of my inner world?

In the end it probably doesn’t matter, since the average person will just get fucked over either way by virtue of simply existing in the crumbling world around them. This I think is what Hecker speaks to in newest effort No Highs, the glittering soullessness of the socio-cultural landscape and the un-avoidance of its pervasive and far reaching damage on our collective psyches. We’re all just sort of, along for the ride, with no clear idea on the collective toll all of this is having.

Tim has a history of this political finger-pointing: I’m reminded of his work on Ravedeath which was a focused shot on the rapidly exploding world of digitisation and streaming quickly eroding the value of the structured album format and the tangibility of physical media. There though the power of the organ and piano used their historic weight as weapons against the future in seamless flow, here we’re caught in the insistent rhythmics of synth and saxophone (courtesy of Colin Stetson), already lost inside the machine.

If you enjoyed his previous doublet of Konoyo and Anoyo then it’s likely this will be of interest, with its crisp digital production polish and clean electronics. Idiosyncratic pair “Monotony I” and “Monotony II” set the metronomic insistence of the record from the off, the former heaving in vertiginous whoops and hurls (strongly ala Konoyo‘s “This Life”), and the latter vomiting Stetson’s saxophone urgently over that stable rhythmic core. The feverish pulsations of itchy “Anxiety” move even more uncomfortably, rapping out a demanding beat that just consumes; though a swirl of instrumentation orbits its heart, it is filled with an insatiable need to move.

The more “stereotypically” ambient interludes, meanwhile, seem to exist in a state of deflation or perhaps temporary cessation. Rather than providing some soothing interstitial breaks from the angst and the din, they instead have a numbness to them, filled with the knowledge that the next bout with work and chores and politics is coming again. “Total Garbage” slinks on murky sax wanderings before the tortured energetics of “Lotus Light”, and “Sense Suppression” cracks the relentless tappings and trappings of “Anxiety” to drift into listless ennui.

No Highs is a clinical, sterile world, one that lacks words of comfort or any sort of hopefulness that things might improve. Instead, neuroses and psychological damage are laid on the table unflatteringly, unerringly. For me it’s a hard pill to swallow as, technically proficient and beautiful though it is, there’s a grim mirror held here that’s more on the nose than perhaps anything Tim has done before, and I don’t quite want to look directly at it.