Tim Hecker An Imaginary Country

[Kranky; 2009]

Rating: 3.5/5

Others:  Fennesz

For an artist who has acquired a fanbase, one can be sure that the unveiling of any new material will be accompanied by a reexamination of (or, at the very least, mention of) the artist’s body of preceding work. Yes, it’s probably an unfair approach to music criticism, but this comparison is unavoidable: every release endures some inspection within the context of its predecessors. Consider that, were we capable of the ideal of detached judgment, our constantly evolving canon of ‘important’ or ‘influential’ albums may look entirely different. But, without fail, the lingering presence of a seasoned veteran’s back catalog tends to magnify when the details of a forthcoming album are made public.

Granted, retrospectively surveying the evolution of a retired artist’s career via his or her discography can evoke a greater appreciation for the work as a whole. But noting a shift of direction in the midst of an artist’s career? Often, this provokes a nearsighted sense of disappointment, an absolving of any further stake in the artist’s development. And when such a shift occurs at the height of an artist’s career — that is, after a work as deep and as universally acclaimed as Tim Hecker's Harmony in Ultraviolet — some are bound for letdown.

Up to this point in his career, Hecker has fit into a fairly narrow taxon, owing to the nature of his roiling, broad, atmospheric explorations. But the trademark that has largely defined his previous line of work seems to have been replaced by something more pressing. What has characterized his music prior to this record — that careful unfurling of slow drones and spacious ambience, not to mention the beautiful melding of these two properties while still accenting the distinctness of each — has now yielded to propriety. By and large, the compositions that Hecker presents on An Imaginary Country are more transient, more ephemeral.

To suggest that his music has always borne a visual quality would be nothing new, but the visual projections on An Imaginary Country are more physical than abstract. (To be fair, this is perhaps due in part to the track titles as well.) Interestingly, the persistent bassline in “Sea of Pulses” emerges as the most noticeable single aspect of the album, and in a way establishes the concretization of the imagery conveyed throughout. Following in the style of “Sea of Pulses,” the elements used to compose the whole of this record communicate brevity and transitoriness. By extension, An Imaginary Country is less unsettling.

In a general sense, the actual lengths of the tracks lend themselves to this mood, but, then again, Hecker has never been one to market an album consisting of two or three pompously self-satisfying rigmarole. Rather, the change is evident within each track: An Imaginary Country, as opposed to Harmony in Ultraviolet, concerns itself with development — the space between point A and point B — less than ever before. It certainly dallies with the identifying points of his earlier work (“Currents of Electrostasy,” “Paragon Point”), but other compositions (“100 Years Ago,” “200 Years Ago”) seem more preoccupied with achieving some of the tenets of contemporary classical music, while still others sustain a distinctly restless meandering (“Pond Life”). Overall, An Imaginary Country is a collection of 12 miniature epics.

In the very bright light cast by Hecker’s past releases, this record not only naturally situates itself for comparison, but, given its noted deviation, proactively invites such examination. And, fair or not, An Imaginary Country can best be described as middling: competent, but certainly not what we all were hoping for from an artist whose work up to this point has been so unequivocally stirring.

1. 100 Years Ago
2. Sea of Pulses
3. The Inner Shore
4. Pond Life
5. Borderlands
6. A Stop at the Chord Cascades
7. Utropics
8. Paragon Point
9. Her Black Horizon
10. Currents of Electrostasy
11. Where Shadows Make Shadows
12. 200 Years Ago

Most Read