Tim Hecker’s ‘Virgins’ is dissonant, destructive

Tim Hecker, Virgins albumKnown for his obsessive attention to detail and richly nuanced drone soundscapes, Montreal-based dread technician Tim Hecker has been buzzing through the music industry’s underbelly, turning out solid album after solid album.

Following on the heels of his 2011 EP, “Ravedeath, 1972,” Hecker returns with an even more richly textured, live instrumental album. “Ravedeath” represented a shift in his production. Hecker went from using samples to live instruments, and the result was well worth the wait. It’s safe to say that with “Virgins,” Hecker has successfully lived up to and exceeded “Ravedeath.”

“Virgins” plays out like a wanderer’s journey across some desolate landscape. The opening track, “Prism,” is a swirling vortex of dissonant piano keys and the sharp hum of synthesizers. It hits like a tornado and for a moment, becomes uncomfortable. Both this track and the following “Virginal I” are more like textures than songs.

The ambition here is immediately apparent. These tracks are alienating and dark, but like a neglectful mother seeking to start over, the track “Radiance” lulls the listener into a place of comfort. It sounds like light looks: bright and affirmational.

This immense beauty continues with the organic song, “Live Room Out.” Imagine stumbling through the desert only to happen upon an oasis. That’s “Live Room Out.” Over the incomprehensible chatter of unseen bodies swells a serene organ.

This is where Hecker’s months of traveling with fellow Canadian band Godspeed! You Black Emperor and the Icelandic post-rock outfit Sigur Ros becomes apparent. Before, Hecker obscured his influences in a stew of dark ambiance and drone. Now “Live Room Out” plays like a thank-you note.

The standout tracks on the album are “Incense at Abu Ghraib” and “Stigmata II.”

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With “Incense at Abu Ghraib,” Hecker demonstrates his knack for the haunting. The track is a little under two minutes, but in that two minutes, the song morphs from a seemingly safe, radiant sequence of synthesizer keys to an immensely layered, but subtle, hellish soundscape. It’s like a slow motion walk through a nuclear wasteland.

“Stigmata II” is a tranquil landscape that drops like rain. It’s patient in its crescendos and gentle on the ears, a welcome requite from the more experimental noise tracks on the album. But as per usual with Hecker, there’s a sense of danger, like “Stigmata II” could burst with dissonance at any moment. But it doesn’t.

Hecker has hit it out of the park once again. The production on display is expertly crafted and meticulous in execution and the live instruments used, make everything more organic. Though some of the recurring themes, like dissonant synthesizer chords being wrapped up in damaged and swelling strings, can become monotonous on the second or third listen.

As a whole, the album is cohesive. It’s never afraid to step out of its comfort zone and does so readily on almost every track. Clocking in at around 47 minutes, “Virgins” is still a weighty listen, but however depressing it becomes, it never sacrifices a strange kind of beauty.

Album: “Virgins”
Artist: Tim Hecker
Release Date: Oct. 14, 2013
Label: Kranky Records
Rating: 4/5