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Music

Tim Hecker: Love Streams

Tim Hecker and his accomplice Ben Frost are cooking up some of the most striking, beautiful, and genre-defying music of our time.


Tim Hecker

Love Streams

Label: 4AD
US Release Date: 2016-04-08
Amazon
iTunes

As music fans in the contemporary world, we have a front row seat to the multifaceted process of musical genres melting, imploding, and deconstructing themselves right before our very ears. The reasons for this hybridizing free-for-all are varied. Part of the reason is the immense proliferation of inexpensive music making technologies that would have been restricted to high-end studies in years gone by, or simply did not exist 20 years ago. Another reason, and I am sorry if this offends physical text purists, is the widespread use of torrents, file sharing, and streaming in the 21st century that gave experimental music a vast, international audience it never had before. One thing is for sure: up in Iceland, Tim Hecker and his accomplice Ben Frost are cooking up some of the most striking, beautiful, and genre-defying music of our time.

Hecker’s previous LP Virgins was a fascinating, hypnotic piece of work that infused traditional instruments with electronic and experimental techniques seamlessly. Virgins was very pretty and did not attack the listener with many moments of overt harshness or overwhelming chaos. Hecker’s live performances, on the other hand, are overwhelming. With a top-notch sound system working for him, Hecker is able to drown his live audience in sound in a way that is simply devastating. Until now, Hecker’s recorded work had not quite reached the ecstatic, down-the-rabbit-hole intensity of his live sets. With Love Streams, Hecker has finally figured out a way to completely rip his audience’s guts out, even without the benefit of a spleen rattling sound system backing him up.

Love Streams continues to do what Hecker does best: mix familiar, traditional musical elements with totally alien sounds that are probably whispered to him by Icelandic elves in the deepest depths of sleep. One of Hecker’s most powerful tools here is so simple that it is ingenious: the human voice. Hecker brought in the Icelandic Choir Ensemble and the formidable Jóhann Jóhannsson to give Love Streams that crucial human element that is so central to his work. The singing that echoes in and out of tracks like "Music in the Air" and "Castrati Stack" is so gorgeous and haunting that it makes me want to throw up and cry at the same time. Love Streams is the sound of a brilliant, fearless musician realizing his full potential for the first time.

Until now, Ben Frost’s recorded output has somewhat outshone Hecker’s. Love Streams changes that dynamic, proving that Hecker can speak in a voice very much his own and match the very finest moments in Frost’s work. The two of them seem to be creating their own genre up there in Reykjavik, although it is so formless and iconoclastic that it is really more of an anti-genre. Terms like ambient, experimental, noise, or anything else you might want to lay on them, don’t do them justice or prepare the listener for the emotional power of their music.

Love Streams cannot be taken in on one listen, or two, or 60; it is one of those records that just goes on and on, offering the listener new moments of epiphany with every replay. Love Streams shifts from moment of hierophantic loveliness to modes of sadness and menace so flawlessly that apparently contradictory emotions counterbalance and fuse. It makes perfect sense that Love Streams is Hecker’s first record with label 4AD, as it sort of sounds like the Cocteau Twins if they decided to live inside a glacier, communing with Old Norse land spirits and subsisting exclusively on psychedelic mushrooms. Love Streams is at once familiar and totally alien; a work of art that reminds us why we need art in the first place.

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Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

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There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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