Though the former might be a slightly more recognizable name in North America, convention-defying experimental musicians Tim Hecker and Ben Frost have long represented two sides of the same iridescent coin. The pair have collaborated on several projects, including Hecker’s most recent solo albums (2011’s rusted Ravedeath, 1972 and 2013’s disquieting Virgins), as well as art installations and live performances.
But even if Hecker and Frost weren’t pals, it would be easy to see why they complement each other so well. Both are working far beyond even the fringes of mainstream electronics, finding light in darkness and darkness in light, fusing sounds both terrestrial and alien, and regularly eliciting images of divinity as well as damnation. Frost’s deservedly lauded 2014 effort, A U R O R A, was a crumbling menace, a product of nuclear fallout. Love Streams, Hecker’s eighth full-length and his first for 4AD, might seem like an unlikely companion piece, with its prismatic synths, fractured woodwinds, and use of the Icelandic Choir Ensemble (helmed by famed composer Jóhann Jóhannsson). But despite some of their aesthetic differences, both works are teetering on the same event horizon, with one definitive difference of purpose: A U R O R A was a cannonball into hell; Love Streams is a climb to the heavens.
Much like Ravedeath and Virgins, Love Streams is the sound of earthly elements trying to escape the confines of the natural world. But unlike its most recent predecessors, Love Streams manages to break through the vaulted cathedral ceilings and peer above the clouds, largely eschewing the degraded, gothic textures Hecker has become so fond of in favor of more vivid, almost celestial palettes. Luminous synths cut through the decay on “Bijie Dream” like bright green shoots pushing through the rot of fallen winter leaves, while opener “Obsidian Counterpoint” pulses in ways equally unnatural and plainly pretty. Single “Castrati Stack” highlights the Icelandic Choir Ensemble, sounding like an angel with a beat-up CB radio trying to locate the frequency of a sung prayer, despite constant cosmic interference.
Hecker’s touting the inspiration for Love Streams as “15th-century choral music being transposed to an artificial intelligence-era language of digital resonance,” and that scans, considering the fragmented translation of chamber music on “Live Leak Instrumental” and the monolithic closer “Black Phase.” Like the sleazy glow of a neon cross, Love Streams is a beacon for sanctuary and salvation in these most unholy of modern times.