Tim Hecker’s music is physical and concussive, but its effects radiate on several levels and manipulate something more primal than flesh alone. For close to an hour the music on this disc invades and purges the human core with vibrating melodies and crashing distortion: An Imaginary Country features Hecker doing what he does best.
Hecker understands the value of balance in abstract music. Throughout his career he has explored the often indescribable places that exist between completely abstract noise, blissful drone, and carefully sequenced melody and rhythm. An Imaginary Country is a continuation of the sound developed over the course of Harmony in Ultraviolet, but with an eye towards vignettes. Whereas his last record flowed in one continuous and throbbing motion, Hecker’s newest fades in and out of consciousness and concentrates on developing a broader array of sounds and ideas. Taking the title of the album seriously, it isn’t hard to imagine each of these songs as an impressionistic detail of a landscape in Hecker’s mind. Instead of focusing on long, slowly developing ideas and shapeless clouds of song, Hecker has decided to temper his music with abrupt shifts, slow fades, and unexpected transformations: a more concentrated and diverse album is the result. The song titles bear the landscape idea out as many of them carry names you might find in an atlas or on a trail map. However, instead of physical locations, Hecker maps out emotional and spiritual terrain by offering subtle and extravagant sounds in measured portions.
The music’s basic elements are hot noise and buried melody. Fat bass pulses, unending string drones, guitar-esque noise solos, hiss, and blankets of other electronic sounds make up the bulk of this record, with silence existing only between the tracks. Hecker’s arrangements are dense without sounding busy and they rely on deceptive movements to work their magic. Distinct melodies and rhythms populate many of the songs, but they’re so repetitive and completely woven into the fabric of the record that they disappear whenever your attention wavers for a second. Radio distortion and bent frequencies eradicate structure and sensibility throughout the record, but at no point does the music fall apart and turn into a mass of unintelligible and undisciplined noise. In fact, the album thrives on the tension between intelligibility and senselessness without ever reaching for either extreme. Each song is very relaxing, but some are particularly hypnotic and play out like electric sirens. Others reward a concentrated listening; all of the minor details that are packed onto this record reinforce its beauty and complexity. An Eno-like playfulness is evident on more than a few of these songs. Another Green World this is not, but Hecker is definitely flirting with that kind of creativity and conceptual framework. “Pond Life” is especially reminiscent of the pictographic nature of that album. Its varied and unpredictable sounds wiggle and gyrate like the kind of life forms you’d expect to find at the bottom of a small body of water. The entire album is life-like in a similar fashion, though Hecker’s musical world is far more dominated by landmarks than by biology.
Appreciated superficially or carefully, An Imaginary Country is a deeply satisfying record. Fully formed songs like “Borderlands” and “Paragon Point” convey and sustain an emotional heft that has become increasingly rare in abstract electronic music. Other songs, like “The Inner Shore” and “Pond Life,” convey their power in more subtle and playful ways. I’ve listened to this record for the last two months and have found something new and exciting about it with nearly each listen. I’ve gone to sleep with it playing, listened to it at work, studied with it, written to it, attempted a review twice, and I’ve still not managed to make myself sick of it. I’ve been excited by a couple records already this year, but this is one of the few that sounds absolutely essential to me.