Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin – Instrumental Tourist

Hecker & Lopatin’s ‘Instrumental Tourist’ is an organic megalith of experimental/drone/ambient music.
‘Uptown Psychedelia’ pans from left to right, a truly Hecker-esq textured drone and grainy visceral feedback stutter in the background while over the top of which a light bright organ melody and bassline slowly develop. Brittle strums of acoustic instruments drop into the mix and short waves of static feedback rise and fall. The gentle hiss of a record player is there too, combined with the patterned, detailed melody and noises that develop. I love the guitar work that appears, hard and dissonant but still harmonious. The way that Hecker and Lopatin manage to juxtapose harsh noise with gentle, ambient sounds is impressive, this is arrangement at its best. The use of bass is also very selective and appears to punctuate the world H+L have constructed.
‘Scene From a French Zoo’ is more subdued to begin with, the subtle use of strings adds a pretty dynamic to the uneasy drone that leads. Gradually broken and chewed up noise appears in the background but is drowned out by the sweeping melody. Electric melodies intertwine as the overall volume and size of this track builds but this is a spacey, pondering track staying dreamy and even vaguely ethereal throughout.
‘Vaccination for Thomas Mann’ this is an interesting title choice – I don’t know if anyone has tried to musically consider Mann recently. This track keeps the swooping sounds but this time they are deeper than ever. Alongside are the hints of light female vocals but it suddenly develops into male vocals that I would compare to a Gregorian chant; kudos to H+L, I can’t immediately think of anyone else who would make this work. Atmospheric synths build on one side but these contribute to the swathe of beautiful sound; there is no white noise, no grains, it’s all vocals baby, rising and falling. If I wanted to by cynical I would suggest that this is a little meditative but that is the limit of my criticism.
The next track ‘Intrusions’ moves away from the previous one immediately, beginning with jarring bolts of white noise around which twisting, fusing digital textures develop around in the sonic equivalent to a malfunction sign. The instrument(s) on here are hard to pin down – they’re digital alright – but they are distinctively electronic and synthesizer orientated but filtered differently somehow.. I could ruminate further. These grow though and higher tones appear while the chopped moving feedback beneath keeps rolling on.
‘Whole Earth Tascam’ returns to the vocal work of ‘Vaccination for Thomas Mann’ but these fade and a breezy but tripping loop takes over as modulated vocals come in and out. This is a simpler track perhaps but not bad for it. The strings that reappear are a good addition. The peaks and falls keep this track interesting. H+L’s sparing bass tones reappear on here again.
‘GRM Blue II’ is electronic with blocky synth sounds and what I think is a clarinet, it’s an interlude followed by the fleshed out ‘GRM III’ that lays down some jazzy sounding organ notes with the same blocky, now slightly dissonant keyboard hits. This track feels like a doodle for the most part due to the high pitched organ noodling over the top. There are some more vocal sounds that come across like they have been programmed to a keyboard.
‘Racist Drone’ is shimmering and, in the now common place bundle of sounds, there are pipes that grow in volume and scale. The combination of airy synth and pipes rise and fall but fall prey to coming across as a ‘natural sounds’ CD initially. There are some interesting sound in here though, the pipes are powerful and make a broad canvas that a twittering, cycling, percussive patter can run over.
My issue with this album is probably typified by ‘Grey Geisha’ though which is that largely I feel like everything has already been said; the sound pallet starts to feel a little exhausted and even stretched. ‘Grey Geisha’ is a nice track, and if I heard it outside the album overall I would most likely think it was a good track but in the album as a whole, this feels moderately repetitive and this is true of the following two tracks. ‘Instrumental Tourist’ and ‘Ritual For Consumption’. The latter has some plucked strings that were so good earlier in the album and there is a return of streams of varied sounds. There is a saxophone too, very distantly and I wish this had been expanded on further because it sounds great when it does appear.
However, the final track ‘Vaccination 2’ is excellent and brings back some of the experimentation that the earlier tracks were so good for with some bassier tones over the top of the lightly swaying electronic textures and drone. The bass has a dry, distorted tone that I like. Gradually the other sounds become distorted and overdriven around the bass. The progression here is good too producing a tribal, primal feel to this final episode.
This is a good album, up to the standard of all previous Hecker and Lopatin/Oneohtrix Point Never efforts but it does suffer from being a little over long and I think that is why the latter half of the album feels a little tired, despite that each track individually is enjoyable and an interesting listen.
Instrumental Tourist is out on ‘Software Recording Co’.

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