Lacks the transcendent quality that has marked Hecker’s formidable discography.
Last year’s Konoyo found drone composer Tim Hecker once again stretching the boundaries of his musical exploration by pairing up with Tokyo Gakuso to adapt the traditional Japanese court music of gagaku with his own electronic embellishments and expansions. The result lacked the sheer weight of Hecker’s most famous work, but it showed a greater elasticity in Hecker’s core sound than ever before, reaffirming him as a composer whose building blocks of noise could be endlessly permutated with the input of collaborators. Hecker clearly enjoyed his time with the ensemble, as his latest, Anoyo, is drawn from more recordings with the group. If Konoyo felt sparse compared to Hecker’s usual output, its companion piece is even more stripped-down, arguably the closest that Hecker has ever come to traditional ambient.
From the track titles, sentence fragments that join together into a unified poem, to the largely continuous field of sound that merely shifts between tracks rather than differs altogether, Anoyo feels like one big suite. Some tracks even feature recurring themes; “Is but a simulated blur” consists of a combination of clanging industrial noise and thudding traditional drums that slow and speed up in a circular fashion, a foundation used again on “Not alone,” where it is joined by a muffled recording of someone speaking and some chiming strings that float around the percussive melody to soften it. Tracks bleed into each other with groans of negative space, brief pauses as the musicians shift gears.
The downside of this is that it’s easy to ignore the album, letting its mild differences become background noise rather than the more provocative, compelling arrangements that Hecker usually offers. Opener “That world” stretches for nine minutes but barely rises out of its initial contrast of elegantly plucked strings and abrupt glitches of scrambled noise. The track’s gentle ebb and flow is only barely deepened by the late addition of some flute and the sound of scraping metal, changing up what otherwise feels like a chill-out record. And for all of Hecker’s obvious enthusiasm for working with the Tokyo Gakuso, they are a surprisingly minimal presence throughout, missing almost entirely from the record’s middle section and often employed more as flavoring for Hecker’s electronic warbles rather than the other way around.
Still, even Hecker in subdued mode is entertaining, and there are moments of great beauty here. “Step away from Konoyo” could have come straight off of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II in the manner in which its ostensibly lilting loops of ethereal sound slowly reveal a grating tension that gives pulses of bright synths a serrated edge. Even better is the record’s centerpiece, “Into the void,” which runs a buzzing, dissonant synth over an oscillating percussive beat that rolls in place. Small touches like a gurgle of what sounds like a fretless bass add surprises to the soundscape, and the ensemble’s return after a stretch away adds a layer of strings that cut straight through the heart of the track, offering a bracing burst of controlled noise. Closer “You never were” slowly emerges from a darkened area into the bleary, shimmering daylight, but one cannot help but feel that this is not the journey that Hecker’s records so often are, and as listenable and engaging as much of the record is, it lacks the transcendent quality that has marked his formidable discography.