Friday, 3 February 2012

Review: Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972

Tim Hecker - Ravedeath
What got me interested in Tim Hecker's album Ravedeath, 1972 (aside from the huge amount of critical praise, natch) was the title. What on Earth does "Ravedeath, 1972" mean? This is an album that sounds neither ravey nor anything like 1972, so the mystery must go on. It does sound quite a lot like death, though. Indeed, it's pretty easy to pick up on a theme of mortality,transience and general negativity from the track titles and cover art. Perhaps these prescriptive trappings are the reason why the music brings to mind the likes of William Basinski and Richard Skelton - a sort of droney, ambient neo-classical fusion with lots of live instruments processed and treated to the very edge of recognition and certainly beyond any notion of traditional live ensemble performance. Basinski notably found a lot of crumbling old tapes of his early loops and in the process of transcribing them, captured the audible process of the tapes literally falling apart - hence The Disintegration Loops. Skelton takes the opposite approach - he leaves his instruments out in the elements of the northern English countryside until the wooden instruments became warped and knackered to the point the sounds they produce are as rustic as the stone wall he stashed them in over winter.

I don't know too much about Hecker's processes, except that most of this album comes from recordings made in a single day with a church organ in a hall in Iceland. (I'm still wondering what an album based on a church organ recording session has to do with raves or 1972). But the overall sound isn't a million miles away from Basinski or Skelton, and certainly the overall mood brings to mind that classic Japanese aesthetic philosophy of wabi sabi - the beauty found in the melancholy of transience, expressed through small, time-worn imperfections. There are a few moments creeping through the album where you can hear the reverberations of the physical recording space, or on Analog Paralysis where the guitar fret board squeaks - an old trick beloved of acoustic musicians who want to emphasise just how raw and live their recordings are. It doesn't feel annoyingly twee here though, simply because most of the time the music is blurred and processed way beyond the realms of smug rootsiness. Instead these imperfections strengthen the overall mood and effect of the record.

This is a great album. You already knew that. Some clown writing on one isolated blog isn't going to drown out the collective roar of critical approval. Everyone has reviewed this and scored it highly - Pitchfork, Tiny Mix Tapes, Drowned In Sound, The Quietus, RA... all of those blogs and publications you do a weekly trawl through to see what music you should be paying attention. I should at least throw my voice in, however, and say that this is one of those occasions where the blogosphere has got it right. This is a really great album. If you haven't at least heard of it by now, you're probably not into that kind of music anyway and so you probably won't feel it. If you are on the same wavelength, you've probably already heard it. And you probably love it. You should do, at least. This is an album that pisses all over that pleasant laptop-nothing-drone I've been chewing through, it's an ambient record that's unsettling and moving and distinctive in method and result (although it's unfair to simplify this to mere "ambient"). Too much modern ambient is nothing more than abstracted "chill out", which is as limited and functional as "dance music". The best ambient records do way more than simply evoke bland pleasantness or softness or relaxation, they create powerful moods that move you and engross you. Ravedeath is the best ambient+ album I've heard from 2011 so far.

Genre: Ambient/neo-classical/drone
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 9/10

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