“Forceful” would be a compelling choice of word to describe Tim Hecker’s Virgins. Particularly in contrast to his previous work — most notably the masterful Ravedeath, 1972 — Virgins might even be called “accessible.” It might be fair to say that Virgins effects in comparison to Ravedeath’s affection. Ravedeath explored the concept of the end of music with pipe organ, laptop and other instrumentation through a drone sound, giving the album a more academic feel. Virgins is similarly academic in its production; Hecker is a PhD student in the cultural history of sound. His background knowledge and points of reference are beyond this reviewer’s understanding. So while Hecker can still be contemplated from an academic reference, this album is jarring in its almost horror styling. “Live Room,” filled with distortion and a haunting piano melody nearly lost in the background, sounds poised to soundtrack a film.
But the Abu Ghraib referencing cover and album track “Incense at Abu Ghraib” point to something darker than just a slasher film. The album is dark and heavy throughout, and unsettlingly beautiful, as on “Prisms II.” And so for all of this, it would be easy to write off as a great soundtrack to a messy film, but the depth of sound here is more than just an appendage to a movie. Calling it a soundtrack makes it sound like an easy listen, and it isn’t. Virgins is gripping, challenging, powerful; a music-as-art album that forces us to think darkly. That darkness isn’t always immediate or obvious, but often lingers in the bare moments of the album. A truly remarkable record, it demonstrates along with Hecker’s past catalogue that his work Hecker hasn’t stopped carefully conceptualizing albums, and that good things still remain in the future for his musical output. (Paper Bag Records, paperbagrecords.com) Devin King