On his last solo album, Ravedeath, 1972, Tim Hecker seemed to be exploring his own frustrations with, containment within, and destruction of music. The song titles found him “In the Fog”, looked at his “Hatred of Music”, and discussed musical “Paralysis” and “Suicide”. The music itself (as is often the case with the drone master’s work) pushed and strained at the boundaries of expectation and patience. Hecker’s latest, Virgins, does the same. This time, though, instead of looking at his own issues with the music, he’s focused on the other half of the equation: you.
The virgins of the album’s title aren’t about to be deflowered, but rather sacrificed. The image on the cover evokes the infamous torture at Abu Ghraib, also mentioned in a song title. Other titles’ references to refraction and a “Prism” could be the prying surveillance program, or the object that refracts light, but either way it is the object through which something passes that is being discussed, not the passing. Ravedeath featured recordings of a church organ later chopped and screwed digitally, Hecker alone in a studio; Virgins is composed of live musicians in small rooms, presence and interaction recorded. Which is all to say, these movements are designed to make an impact on someone, to “Stab” at them, to produce “Stigmata” on their hands and feet.
While Hecker was clearly aware that there would be listeners when releasing his other LPs, this album looks at the relationship more explicitly, digging deep at the core. Even more astonishing is the fact that Hecker does all the intense, challenging work of scrambling your brain without relying on the tools of abrasive noise and power electronics (though heavy-hitting synth does factor in, as on the bassy bursts of “Live Room”). These drones chill the air just outside of your reach, low clarinet gurgling under the phasing strings on “Virginal I”, bandsaw scraping the undertow of synth arpeggios on “Stab Variation”, rough-hewn piano figures careening against each other on “Virginal II”.
Somewhere within the depths of tracks like the haunting, haunted “Black Refraction” there lies a core of simplistic beauty. But, throughout Virgins, Hecker organizes things just a little bit off, pokes at it just enough to be unsettling, and then pushes things away just when they start to make sense. Music has so clearly affected him, and now he’s making sure it’s doing the same for you.
Essential Tracks: “Live Room”, “Black Refraction”, and “Virginal I”