Review Summary: Hecker won't quit.
Electronic recording artist Tim Hecker released his 7th LP yesterday to massive critical acclaim. He is most commonly associated with the small yet innovative drone/ambient microsound scene that is home to artists such as Ben Frost, Christian Fennesz and Alva Noto. “Virgins”, the follow up to 2011’s “Ravedeath, 1972”, marks the transition between the cold, blasting organ drone obsessed Hecker to the slightly more uplifting, melodic side of his songcraft. Don’t fret- the noisy, psychedelic drones are still packed in tight, but this time Hecker focused more on discernible melody and traditional ambient aesthetics than ever before, and despite a few shortcomings, he pulled it off.
Since his debut album“Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again” in 2001 , Hecker has pushed the boundaries of his style year after year; his creative approach to combining stinging drone barrages, eerie melodies and inverted sound waves into a brooding, cinematic experience with every release is nothing short of miraculous. “Virgins”, while not without flaw, is proof of this claim. It’s a concise, impressive work that continues his exploration of atmospheric havens in new ways while remaining something that he’s been doing effectively for almost fifteen years. “Prism”, like “The Piano Drop” from his previous record, sets “Virgins” in motion perfectly from the get go. Hecker grabs the listener with an almost crystal like synth drone that seems to climb in and outside itself multiple times right up until it fades into the next track. “Virginal 1” opens with a euphoric, looped acoustic guitar melody that sounds unlike anything Hecker has ever tried before. From underneath the guitar strings slowly forms a looming, harsh noise loop that exposes the track as a Hecker classic, and it ends up being one of the strongest tracks on the album.
Unfortunately, the album doesn’t truly pick up it’s steam again until “Virginal 2” a few songs later. “V2” is exactly what it sounds like- the sequel to “V1”. Hecker uses sequels to songs constantly in other releases, either as a form on continuing ideas or reworking older ones. Songs “Black Refraction” and “Incense at the Abu Ghraib” are disappointing and only sufficient. They mainly act as a bridge to “Amps, Drugs, Harmonium”, a three minute crescendo (with a flute!) that sets the listener up for the final portion, and one of the strongest portions of the record.
“Stigmata I” and “Stigmata 2” would have been right at home next to tracks on albums like “Harmony in Ultraviolet” or “Mirages” mainly for their quick, choppy synth vibrations and rolling orchestrations. They help bring the album to it’s grand finale, one of the most awe-inspiring songs Hecker has ever recorded, “Stab Variation”.
This thing is a beautifully written bombshell. It starts off with a crackling, late 90’s IDM inspired groove that eventually morphs into a grandiose, reverb drenched drone that meanders (but in a good way) until it finally decompresses into nothing, leaving the listener with something truly special to walk away with. It’s sort of like Aphex Twin started writing a song and Sunn 0))) stepped in to finish it.
Is Virgins a perfect record? No, probably not. Is it Tim Hecker’s finest, or even one of his finest hours? Hard to say. It doesn’t hit as hard or bite as viciously as his brooding opus “Ravedeath, 1972” and it probably isn’t as consistent as his most critically lauded LP “Harmony in Ultraviolet”. What “Virgins” IS however, is another great album from one of electronic music’s most exciting musicians. You know it’s a Hecker album for sure- only it is without question a shockingly more melodic approach to atmosphere than he’s ever explored before. Ignore the few filler tracks and dig into the meat like “Stab Variation” or “Virginal 1 and 2” and you will discover some of the best music this mastermind has ever crafted.