After already releasing one of the year’s most surprising and remarkable albums in Ravedeath, 1972, a dark and brooding piece of droney synth music that was as confounding as it was fascinating, Tim Hecker offers another batch of tunes in the form of Dropped Pianos. It’s an album that doesn’t so much reorient the sound but instead builds upon it, expanding the parameters previously set forth.
This “is not a new Tim Hecker album, but rather a peek behind the curtains into the working progress,” according to a news release for the album. Still, it plays like something of a sequel to the last one. They also share the same artwork, which depicts a group of MIT students hurling a piano off a building. The symbolism behind the image is somewhat on the nose—Hecker’s aim is to deconstruct the idea of the piano as both a concept and an instrument—but that doesn’t keep both albums from possessing a strong sense of cohesion.
Depicted as a series of sketches—each track is listed as “Sketch 1,” “Sketch 2,” and so on—Dropped Pianos is heavy on reverb and minor keys, creating sounds that feel like shadows, looming in the corners of Hecker’s aural compositions.
There are certainly moments when the release feels incomplete, where the “working process” comes through. Hecker often begins a song with a sense of drive before essentially dovetailing into a fog of wayward tones and textures. As such, the argument could be made that Dropped Pianos is a less focused effort than its predecessor. But there’s concision at play. Hecker may meander in spurts, but he avoids heading too far down the rabbit hole before reasserting his focus.
In fact, considering the pithiness of “Sketch 3,” “Sketch 6” and “Sketch 8”—each track clocks in at less than two minutes—it soon becomes evident that these deviations don’t come as a result of Hecker’s unfocused musings. Instead, they’re variations on a theme, proving himself to be a more malleable than he might present himself.
The moods evoked by Dropped Pianos aren’t exactly sunny. Many songs sound like they would fit splendidly in a neo-horror film, such as the ominously creepy “Sketch 5.” But it would be difficult (and unwise) to try and put concrete labels on any “sketch.” Dropped Pianos is absolutely devoid of structure and eschews pop-music comforts in ways that could leave some feeling cold.
For that reason, the album often feels daring and unhinged, despite its sense of calm and control. Balancing this incongruity likely wasn’t an easy thing to do, but such is the command of Hecker’s formal abilities. For a lot of reasons, Dropped Pianos should not work: on the surface it feels directionless, sedated and pretentious.
Bubbling beneath surface is a supreme vision. As he expands upon his ever-evolving sound, we’re beginning to learn more about Hecker’s interests as an artist as opposed to his interests as merely a musician. As a result, Dropped Pianos feels more personal than Ravedeath, which had a larger scope in terms of its listenability. Perhaps the moments Hecker culled for this album are the ones he couldn’t quite place into the last one. Regardless of their impetus, the songs amount to an album that is rightfully described as an experience.
Tim Hecker – Dropped Pianos tracklist:
- “Sketch 1″
- “Sketch 2″
- “Sketch 3″
- “Sketch 4″
- “Sketch 5″
- “Sketch 6″
- “Sketch 7″
- “Sketch 8″
- “Sketch 9″