About a month ago, musical genius and visionary Gene Simmons garnered some significant media attention for his admission that he’s “looking forward to the death of rap”. The Kiss bassist’s concise summary of thirty years of socio-political commentary and musical evolution as “just talking” ruffled a few feathers, as you may well expect. But what has Gene Simmons got to do with Tim Hecker? And what does rap have to do with drone? And what am I talking about? Well, Simmons’ opinion led me to think about some of the other small-minded criticisms of genres beyond my own comprehension. Noel Gallagher’s description of jazz as four guys on stage who are “all playing the wrong notes at the same time” comes to mind, not to mention the mass of people who seem to hate pop music simply for the fact it is pop music. But one style of music which is perhaps more misunderstood than any other is ambient music. Frequently dismissed for its alleged homogeneity, most people’s justification for deriding the genre would be that “it all sounds the same”. When it comes to Tim Hecker, however, this could not be any further from the truth.
Throughout his career, Hecker’s approach has been characterised by a state of near-perpetual change. With most of his studio releases, something new has been brought to the table. Be it the hazy noise collages of Mirages or the disintegrated instrumentation of Ravedeath, 1972, there’s usually some sort of previously unexplored innovation to be heard. Love Streams is no different in this regard. Perhaps the most notable addition to Hecker’s stylistic palette is his use of voices. These are an important part of the album’s sound, and a great addition overall. Music Of The Air is a perfect demonstration of this, wherein the celestial voices lend the song an alien feel. Waves of sound wash over the disembodied incantations, threatening to drown them out, yet they ultimately rise up in a gorgeous sonic evaporation, leaving only the gentle pulsing of sonic streams below. Another great example is the wonderful album highlight and closing track Black Phase. The harsh tones are nicely offset by the melodic chants which cut through any obstacle in their path.
Yet Love Streams isn’t always Hecker at his best. Black Phase is not simply a brilliant indictment of the effectiveness with which Hecker utilises voices; it’s also an unfortunate example of what Love Streams could have been. Black Phase is one of the album’s most superb moments because the chaos of the noise-inflected drones complements the unsullied vocal melodies which permeate the track. Elsewhere, however, it can sometimes feel as though natural sounds are manipulated purely for the sake of it. The swarm of voices inhabiting Violet Monumental I leave the track feeling chaotic and unorganised, with their placement within the piece sometimes feeling totally random, yet the concluding piano melodies (unsullied by experimental manipulation) provide a marvellous sonic relief. Moments like this are indicative of Hecker’s manipulation of that which need not be altered – an unfortunate pitfall of Love Streams.
Having said that, Love Streams is far from mediocre. Whilst the album’s inherent rejection of conventional rhythm and its frequent use of heavyset textures can sometimes leave tracks feeling more muddled than clarified, this approach often provokes great things. The calming swells of Up Red Bull Creek speak to the fact that the record regularly says more with a whisper than with a shout, whilst Castrati Stack serves as a much appreciated reminder that Hecker’s use of dynamics is usually second-to-none. Love Streams is a very intense, sometimes overbearing album, but one that is defiantly ambitious and frequently impressive. Through its graceful melodies and bold experimentation, it succeeds far more often than it fails. Though its waters may be rough at times, if you hang on you’ll be handsomely rewarded for your persistence.