Composers Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin make broad assumptions in their music. They assume you have all the time in the world, and that you have an affinity for twitchy experimental blends. Their sounds are tough to endure at times and you have to be in a pensive mood to enjoy them. But that’s what makes Hecker and Lopatin stand out: their music is a meticulous exercise of creative freedom, and an alternative to the mundane, even if you’re not sure what you’re hearing.
But isn’t that the beauty of music? Unlike other art forms, it reaches whom it’s supposed to reach exactly when needed. Perhaps it’s that soul record which sounds better on a rainy day, or that jazz album which helps you endure the rush hour traffic jam.
Instrumental Tourist, Hecker and Lopatin’s collaborative new album, is a bit tougher to classify. But it harbours an electronic mystique that resonates during the aforementioned drizzle, and soothes during that afternoon gridlock. It’s ambient music with ventilated edges, where haunting bass lines and strident synthesizers bring futuristic psych-rock to the fore. These dark melodies were made to be dissected by brooding souls on a good pair of headphones. This isn’t easy listening, but it’s certainly rewarding.
Instrumental Tourist is an experiment. Hecker and Lopatin joined forces through the Mexican Summer label’s newly formed Software Studio Series, which invites electronic producers to create collaborative works through its imprint. The album is heavy on improvisation, and at certain points, one can hear the musicians converse in the background. That adds to the album’s free-spirited nature; in certain places — namely ‘GRM Blue I’ and ‘GRM Blue II’— it sounds like two experts just pushing buttons and turning knobs. The results are always masterful, even if they’re randomly playing off of each other. It’s tough to discern who’s doing what, but it flows together seamlessly.
Hecker and Lopatin never stray too far afield, keeping Tourist as a tightly coiled procession of hovering synthetics. The album’s first three songs — ‘Uptown Psychedelia,’ ‘Scene from a French Zoo,’ and ‘Vaccination (for Thomas Mann)’— comfortably plod along with a scientific focus: crackling synths churn with blazing intensity; elsewhere, they linger with a supernatural glow. Then there’s ‘Instrusions,’ which gives Tourist its first startling jolt. It begins with malfunctioning electronics that grow more abrasive as they progress, eventually giving way to staggering bass drops. The album becomes more relaxed as it plays, though. ‘Racist Drone’ and ‘Grey Geisha’ are atmospheric concoctions of bright strings and faint vocals, injecting overwhelming tranquility into the otherwise heavy recording. On ‘Instrumental Tourist’ and ‘Ritual for Consumption,’ the stuttering electronics make subtle returns.
It’s safe to call this a concept album. Tourist moves like the soundtrack of a sci-fi movie, in which the nomadic main character moves carefully through undiscovered terrain. The cover art seems to confirm such notions; on it, a silhouetted patriot is seen riding a horse. As with any journey, Tourist brings to mind those hazardous moments that threaten the hero’s vitality. But there’s also that sense of accomplishment once the end is reached. Nonetheless, Hecker and Lopatin force you to listen and develop your own stories. They’re not concerned with clunky subgenres or fitting into anyone’s neat little boxes. With Instrumental Tourist, it is what it is.
7Marcus J. Moore's Score