Tim Hecker - Virgins (4 stars)

Tim Hecker - Virgins

The latest from the ambient-drone master is a challenging but vividly engrossing record

The recent work of Canadian ambient artist Tim Hecker has worked with two main themes; overtones of faith and spirituality (he often records and performs in churches) and an obsession with notions of sonic decay, specifically the connections between digitisation and the denigration of music as a physical commodity. Both themes are subtly refined here as his usual rough cloak of digi-stortion is replaced by a less taxing, but equally menacing, ambient zephyr.

The majority of Virgins still stems from Hecker's work on organ and piano, but was often recorded with ensembles rather than in solitude and this collaborative process brings an interesting new dimension to his style. As his keys are swarmed by thick fogs of crackle and buzzing processors they take on a far more percussive quality – the jolting key stabs drive the tracks forward through that veil of noise and toward something transcendent. When it really works, like on the frantic droning of 'Virginal II', it is a joy to behold – his production style allowing the noise to wash over everything while the shifting textures pulls the listener deeper into his world.

Hecker uses thick dystopian brush strokes to create this world but also does well to balance the sense of bleak apocalyptic with moments of relative quiet and liberation from the digital din which swarms elsewhere; 'Amps, Drugs, Harmonium' finds a quietude in rippling phases and 'Radiance' is a purging of light through soft wavering chords. Tormented closer 'Stab Variation' is his noisy best though, a track which eschews structure to play out like a broken transmission, like a grim crossed-wires signal of overbearing horror. In parts Virgins can be a challenging listen but it also paints a vivid engrossing world, and really cements Hecker's position as a master of his field.

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