Switched On – Tim Hecker: No Highs (Kranky)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

There is a note of defiance with this new album from Tim Hecker, the Canadian’s eleventh studio long player. It is in effect an anti-record, positioned against what is described as ‘false positive corporate ambient’.

It is meant to be unsettling, a reaction against comfort and calm, and, as the press release calls it, a ‘jagged anti-relaxant for our medicated age, rough-hewn and undefined.’

The No Highs title is borne out by the artwork, and its unremitting shades of grey.

What’s the music like?

Oddly, and perhaps inevitably, there is deep ambience in the musical content of Tim Hecker’s work, but it is pitched in a way that means it is never too comfortable or settled.

As No Highs proceeds, it is a compelling listen, as Hecker has carefully shaded his work in response to the subject matter. There is certainly an unnerving tone to the long-breathed electronic sighs of Monotony, though an ideal contrast to this can be found on tracks like Winter Cop, which adds warmer tones, and even Monotony II, where the saxophone of Colin Stetson comes into its own. He plays a beautiful soliloquy that builds rather like a murmuration, turning this way and that against the spacious backdrop.

Sometimes Hecker’s approach is contrary, the result being that a track like Anxiety is actually quite calming in its own drawn-out way. Meanwhile the extended Lotus Light, which flickers intermittently at the start, pulses with activity once it gets going.

Does it all work?

It does. Although darkly shaded, Hecker’s music has an authority that is rare to music of this tempo and instrumentation.

Is it recommended?

It is. This is indeed a sound musical riposte to the ambient ‘muzak’ that can be found in a lot of areas currently



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