The animal can be one of your choosing. For me, it would be a rabbit; but for you, perhaps you would select a cat, or a small dog, or maybe something like a guinea pig.
In this imagined scenario, the animal of your choosing first approaches the synthesizer with caution—maybe gently pawing at one or two of the keys before they realize the device means them no harm. From there, they paw at it more—perhaps they dig at a few of the keys, causing the synthesizer to create erratic, dissonant tones.
Eventually, they scamper back and forth across the keys, pressing them down randomly as they trot along, creating even more dissonant and erratic noises.
The reason I ask you to imagine this scenario is because, following my consumption of the new Tim Hecker album, Love Streams, it’s all I could think of.
Tim Hecker, by name, is an electronic and experimental composer who rose to prominence in 2011 thanks to the critical acclaim from his album Ravedeath, 1972. His last effort was 2013’s Virgins, an album that I apparently listened to and wrote a review of for my own site, where I was kind enough to say it was “nothing short of revelatory,” which is interesting considering that I remember nothing of the record, and probably haven’t listened to it since October 2013.
Trading up from the landmark experimental label Kranky for the big leagues of 4AD, Love Streams was announced in January, accompanied by a press release that tossed around expressions like “liturgical aesthetics after Yeezus,” and “transcendental voice in the age of auto-tune.” So based on statements like that, I was foolish enough to sign myself up to listen to it and review it for Bearded Gentlemen.
Whenever someone talks about a “post-Yeezus” aesthetic, I guess certain things, for me anyway, come to mind, and the thing about Love Streams is that it features none of those things. Sure, it’s dissonant, but not in a fun or menacing way. Just in kind of an annoying, obnoxious, and in the end, a pointless way. Following a listen of Love Streams I was left scratching my head, wondering what exactly I just spent part of my day listening to—and more importantly, what the point of the record is, exactly.
With experimental, ambient, and electronic music, rarely is it accessible; and I never expect it to be. This kind of genre is not something that features catchy hooks and things that make you want to return for subsequent listens. But if it’s experimental music that is done right, it evokes feeling—it sets a tone—and in setting that stage, you will want to come back again and again to have that evocative experience another time.
Love Streams is a case of experimental music that has not been done right.
Most of the tracks attempt to have some kind of focus, or conceit, that is discernable through all the keyboard cacophony that Hecker creates, but it all gets too easily lost in the shuffle of noise. There are moments where you feel like pieces are trying to settle into a groove, or into a structure, but it still feels erratic and disjointed—like if my rabbit were pawing at the keys of a synthesizer, or a small child was just discovering the instrument for the very first time, and amusing itself endlessly by touching different keys over and over again, seeing what kind of awful squalling sound it could create with enough effort.
One of those moments was the contemplative warmth of “Up Red Bull Creek,” which is one of the more palatable pieces on Love Streams —and could have been a high point for me had it just been left alone, but as it nears the two-minute mark, a bunch of vocoded fuckery begins, and just completely harshes the vibe that had been created.
Perhaps I’m just doing it wrong though—or perhaps I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I am not as into experimental music as I once was a few years ago. Perhaps Love Streams is brilliant, and I am just missing the point—that this really is what a “post-Yeezus” aesthetic sounds like, and I’ve just been mistaken.
I stop short of saying that listening to Tim Hecker’s Love Streams was a chore, because for something that wants to be complex and dense, it really doesn’t ask a lot of the listener. It just kind of unfolds around you, and you can choose to pay attention and really unpack the layers, and be impressed by Hecker’s abilities; or you can be perplexed by it, wondering just how much more synthesizer noodling and vocal manipulations you will have to suffer through until its self-indulgence has concluded.
Kevin Krein is a Minnesota based writer, and has been operating the award winning music blog Anhedonic Headphones since January 2013. For nearly as long, he has been an occasional contributor to Bearded Gentlemen Music. From December 2013 until its the summer of 2017, he wrote “The Bearded Life” column for the Southern Minn Scene magazine, and from the summer of 2017, until the fall of 2018, wrote “The Column of Disquiet” for The Next Ten Words. His writing also regularly appears in The Wagazine and in River Valley Woman. At the beginning of 2019, he launched the all new Anhedonic Headphones podcast, which you may subscribe to in such legitimate outlets as iTunes and Google Play.
He is a vegan, a friend to all animals, and a huge jerk toward most people.