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Tim Hecker - An Imaginary Country

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Artist: Tim Hecker

Album: An Imaginary Country

Label: Kranky

Review date: Mar. 6, 2009


Tim Hecker - "Borderlands" (An Imaginary Country)


As Eno’s perfect pop songs slowly dissolved from Another Green World to Discreet Music and eventually to 1978’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports, ambient music as a genre wasn’t necessarily created but was certainly popularized during this era of increasing experimentation within the music industry. And Eno was just man for the job. His immaculate productions set the style’s apposite characteristics: rich textures, saturated tones, and most importantly, subtle drama. It became the antithesis of Muzak: background music that was to be appreciated not ignored.

Tim Hecker is among Eno’s most celebrated contemporary descendents. Since the very early aughts, the Montreal-based producer has crafted a number of well-received albums easily classified in the ambient genre. From the more techno-derived concoctions of Jetone to his matured releases under his own name, Hecker’s ambience stayed true to Eno’s mold. The texture – woven from dense collages of self-recorded found sound, digital noise and delicate feedback – is nearly tangible and always surprising in its density, the tones cascade into seemingly accidental and often mesmerizing harmonies, and most importantly, Hecker’s drama has always been tempered by his equally disorienting sonic environments.

This all-important final characteristic is what’s triggering my initial disappointment with Hecker’s 2009 release An Imaginary Country, but only because my standards for the talented producer have been set so high by his previous work. The drama doesn’t emerge from the shimmering sounds of the seaside horizon as it did with Radio Amor, nor does it evolve out of numerous momentary melodies of 2006’s Harmony in Ultraviolet. Instead, there are passages like “Paragon Point.” The layered melody of crisp tones beneath static-ridden feedback is admittedly blissful (the adjective of choice for most cases of blown-out ambience), but it’s handed to you on a sparkling silver platter. There is no challenge to unearth the prize, no involvement needed by the listener. It’s the difference between Gas and Ulrich Schnauss.

It would be unfair to completely discredit this album on such an opinionated sliding scale of preference, though. Hecker’s ear for rich samples is as impeccable as it has ever been, and his ability to weave them so seamlessly is nearly unmatched. An Imaginary Country is best listened to at a comfortably loud volume via floor speakers of some magnitude, certainly not the suffocating confines of tiny white earbuds. There is no way the slightly painful high-pitched tones of the dub-derived “Borderlands” could reach their intended vividness without a room to fully develop; nor the burbling and increasingly textured hums of “Currents of Electrostasy.” Ambient music is inspired by the surprisingly interesting conglomeration of background noise and all its numerous unpredictable echoes and reverberations in the three-dimensional environment of the listener. By not giving it space to evolve, a whole dimension of sound is lost.

An Imaginary Country is a solid record, but in the context of Hecker’s discography, it can also be underwhelming at times. For such a talented composer of all things musically incidental, a more challenging listen is almost expected and certainly welcomed. There is still much to be enjoyed here, especially in relation to the first two characteristics of Eno’s mold. But for this trip into Tim Hecker’s detailed imagination, the footing will probably be a bit too assured to truly get lost within.

By Michael Ardaiolo

Other Reviews of Tim Hecker

My Love is Rotten to the Core

Radio Amor

Harmony In Ultraviolet

Norberg, Sweden

Ravedeath, 1972

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View all articles by Michael Ardaiolo

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