Review Summary: A solid album of ambient soundscapes from Tim Hecker that unfortunately can't escape the shadow of Harmony In Ultraviolet.
Releasing a heavily acclaimed album can be both a blessing and a curse. It can bring an artist much deserved exposure to a wider audience, but it can also be damning for an artist's future endeavors. Tim Hecker's brilliant Harmony In Ultraviolet
brought heaps and heaps of praise, and is often seen as one of the best ambient albums of all time. This praise is well deserved. Harmony In Ultraviolet
is a sweeping triumph on every level, a listen that never seems to get old. Following up such an album is no easy task, especially when working in the ambient genre. With An Imaginary Country
Hecker has released a record that's a bit less abrasive and brooding than its predecessor. This does unfortunately take away some of the cathartic power found on Harmony In Ultraviolet
, resulting in a calmer, at times prettier sound that feels a bit lacking when compared to the jagged monoliths of sound Hecker created in his previous effort.
Before I go on criticizing An Imaginary Country
, just let me say that I think this is a great album. The timbres Hecker explores here are quite effective in evoking images of some mysterious land held together by imagination. The tracks also all flow seamlessly together, giving the album momentum even at its most serene moments. But that's just the thing. The whole thing is almost too
serene and even-keel. On Harmony In Ultraviolet
, Hecker balanced out moments that were soothing with moments that can only be described as heavy. An Imaginary Country
seems like a one-sided affair dedicated almost solely to the calm aspect of Hecker's sound, weakening the overall experience of the album.
While Hecker's louder side is missed, his quiet side can be just as intriguing. Tracks like "A Stop At The Chord Cascades" and "Sea Of Pulses" employ synthesizer that actually isn't completely buried in a layer of white noise. The clarity of these sounds is a bit different from some of Hecker's past works, in which nearly everything was covered in static and then heavily effected. "Sea Of Pulses" even includes what sounds like an organ, a nice touch for an album almost completely dominated by grainy synthesizer work. Underneath this collection of sounds, Hecker places rhythmic sub-bass touches that propel the song forward. This flirtation with a more blatantly electronica-based sound crops up throughout An Imaginary Country
, perhaps an indication of a new direction Hecker intends to head in.
While the overall flow of An Imaginary Country
is fluid and free of error, the album lacks the peaks and valleys that appeared on Harmony In Ultraviolet
. Most of this album is engaging and enjoyable, but there are points at which things feel flat. While I'm not suggesting that Hecker should just make a Harmony In Ultraviolet
part 2, I do think that maybe he should look back and re-acquire the same sense of dynamics and pacing found on that album while still moving forward as an artist. With An Imaginary Country
, Tim Hecker has put forth an album that's good, even great, but just isn't quite up with the standard he set himself with Harmony In Ultraviolet