Tim Hecker - Radio Amor
Feb 16, 2020 (updated Feb 22, 2020)
Having just completed my binge of Tim Hecker’s discography, I set myself with the task of writing about one of his albums. A deceptively simple premise that has led to me racking my brain trying to decide which of his many brilliant albums I would review. There’s of course the obvious choice of my favourite Tim Hecker project, ‘Ravedeath, 1972’, but I feel most people are very familiar with that album and have already solidified their opinions on it. A similar thing is the case with ‘Virgins’ and ‘Harmony in Ultraviolet’. This leaves me with his stunning sophomore effort, ‘Radio Amor’, an album I regard to be Tim Hecker’s second finest and one which often falls to the wayside when discussing the crème de la crème of his oeuvre. With that out of the way, I now present to you my review.

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“I work with digital audio, which is like sculpting, a form of chiselling down metal or wood. And I take audio and move it back and forth between the analog and digtal realms and work with it almost like a plastic art until it takes form in different shapes. And I use those figurines that come out of that type of work.”

Tim Hecker is an unflinchingly, creative artist in every sense. I liken him to an auteur as like one, his music has a very distinct sound regardless of what “era” of his music you talking about (more on that in a bit). You know a Tim Hecker composition when you hear one and that’s one of his strongest attributes. Even his early techno music has a subtle slither of experimental gravitas that makes it quite interesting and stand out. (P.S. – check out ‘Ultramarin’, it’s actually good)

The other cornerstone of what makes Tim Hecker such an intriguing artist is his ostensible urge to experiment with his craft – that’s one of the most obvious things that strikes when examining his discography. His music has undergone many shifts over the past two decades in which he has been releasing music. His early output under the pseudonym ‘Jetone’ is firmly planted in the late 90’s techno scene, a style he would quickly abandon with the change of moniker to the eponym he now bears.

The music under his eponym is, of course, what his most widely known for: experimental drone and ambient music. This stage of his career can be split into two fairly distinct “eras”. His early albums (I would say about the first five) are experimental drone-infused, ambient works that take a glitchy, fricative tone while his more recent projects have been more varied and eclectic in their musical palettes. ‘Virgins’ opts for a more flavourful approach to his brand of drone music with its incorporation of neoclassical music and electroacoustics yielding his most sprawling album yet. ‘Ravedeath, 1972’ eschews the fricative nature of his early albums in favour of a more brooding, enveloping atmosphere and ‘Love Streams’ sees Tim Hecker experimenting with plunderphonics (very reminiscent to Lopatin’s work). Lately, his two most recent releases have taken him into the beautiful realm of Japanese classical music.

‘Radio Amor’ is, in my view, the masterpiece of the first “era” of Tim Hecker’s music! "Why is that?" I hear you ask. Well, it’s the most conceptually congruent album of his first five releases with its “radio theme” being an integral part of the music on the album. It also, of course, features some of Tim Hecker’s most inspired compositions; beautiful, dense tapestries that encompass elements of glitch, electroacoustics, drone and cerebral ambient arrangements as well as employing intelligently-placed vocal recording samples that greatly affirm the aforementioned theme. That’s just the general gist of what makes this record great. Follow me as I now delve further into this labyrinth of an album to hopefully unravel its secrets!

This sonic voyage starts with disparate, washed out glitch which yields to a prominent, morphed keyboard melody which ebbs and flows in and out as the track proceeds. Various sonic artifacts flit and dart across the sonic landscape and a vocal snippet muffled in radio static sees the opening’s conclusion. An enticing start indeed! We are then smoothly thrang into the next track with hardly any discontinuity to the music. We are greeted by a wheezing drone rhythm that acts as the crux of the piece. A strong display of the album’s use of the tenets of minimalism, this main motif is stretched and warped as pelleting, electroacoustic percussion overlays it and once again a field recording acts as the transition to the next song. On the other side, grand beauty awaits! A pulsing, cerebral ambient arrangement gleams forth: enchanting and hypnotic, lulling the listener into a state of calm only for a passage of glitch on perturb the serenity created. The listener, however, isn’t to be without a nestling calm for long as the fifth track once again shows Tim Hecker’s adeptness at creating oddly-gorgeous drone music. A lapping wave of hazy drone deftly flows back and forth as a steady layer of radio-com samples bubbles underneath eventually taking precedent as the track concludes as it fades out.

Beauty, once again, is at centre of the seventh track of this expansive work of art. A warm gust of sonic textures envelopes the listener after which fricative timbres coalesce, meandering and twisting until they themselves transform into an earwormy melody in the following track. In the same vein as the warm textures before it, this layer of glitch also gives way to a mix of radio-com samples and reverberating electroacoustics. This leads into the penultimate track and the album’s longest offering. The base of this piece is a simple three chord melody and is yet another example of Tim Hecker utilising minimalism. Like before, this melody exists in a constant state of slight alteration as it’s chopped and screwed only to eventually break down guiding the listener into the final track. Just like the opener, the final piece features distinct keyboard work. Glitch serves to accentuate the track as it progresses and rather fittingly, random vocal recording samples see the album out.

In truth, my words can’t fully encapsulate the beauty and brilliance of this album. However, I’ll try to contextualise its greatness. This album exists in a state of constant progression. As frequently noted above, ‘Radio Amor’ is very multi-layered piece of art. Different little elements all interweave with each other, going in and out, always in perpetual motion. At any given point, one facet will take prominence and enchant the listener while a plethora of infinitesimal details play out in the background adding extra colour to the overall music, waiting for their turn to intrigue the listener as well. This album, and his music in general, is like an intricate, grandiose dance featuring many performers all working in unison to put on an awe-inspiring show. Appreciating Tim Hecker’s music, at least for me, greatly lies in paying ever so close attention to the subtle details and how they all play into each other to create the greater collage.

This album is a gem of ambient music. I would implore you, the reader, to take a crack at listening to it if you haven’t already. Spare an hour of your time, grab your best pair of headphones and take a trip into the world Tim Hecker created here; I assure you, you won’t be disappointed!

FAV TRACKS: All of them! (I view this album as a holistic experience and as such I feel each track contributes in some way even though I don’t like them all equally)
RATING: 94 (Amazing)

P.S: Tim Hecker has no bad albums! If you’ve only listened to a few of his albums, I urge you to check out the rest. The great thing about his music, and honestly ambient music in general, is that one album will hit people differently. My favourite album of his may not be your favourite and vice versa. If you want a bit of guide on where to start, I did a ‘Tim Hecker: Best to Worst’ (shameless plug).
Feb 17, 2020
Excellent review! Good job!
Feb 17, 2020
@DoubleZ Thank you!
Feb 17, 2020
wow, just wow. 👌
Feb 17, 2020
@WhatTheFunk Thanks a ton for the positive feedback!
Feb 22, 2020
such a great review, I keep returning to it to read your well formed thoughts! Well done!
Feb 24, 2020
@thejacktackshac Thanks! I feel immensely honoured!
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