Tim Hecker / Daniel Lopatin

Instrumental Tourist

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The first volume of SSTUDIOS, a series of collaborative releases released on Daniel Lopatin's Software imprint, Instrumental Tourist pairs Lopatin with Tim Hecker, another artist who excels at drone-based electronic music, on a set of largely improvised songs. Most of the album doesn't feel like a meeting of the minds so much as a melding of them. It's difficult, in the best possible way, to tell which artist contributed which elements to any given track; one could make a guess about the glitches and torqued string melody on a piece like "Uptown Psychedelia," but the way Hecker and Lopatin combine their styles into a versatile mix of melody, drone, and distortion on "Ritual for Consumption" and the title track is too seamless to dissect. Along with their commitment to improvisation, on Instrumental Tourist they also explore the possibilities of seemingly hokey/patronizing "ethnic" instrument presets, including the koto, sitar, and lap steel, to transcend their intended uses, but first they send them up: "Racist Drone," with its faux shakuhachi flutes and koto and glistening ambience, could very well be some soothing, Eastern-inspired new age music if the song weren't interrupted by oddly tweaked percussion and synths whenever it seems close to attaining artificial Zen. "Grey Geisha" follows suit, albeit with more of the ominous undercurrent felt throughout the rest of the album; while these tracks are clever, Hecker and Lopatin's more abstract takes on these concepts are among Instrumental Tourist's standouts. The title "Intrusions" hints at the album's questioning of "exoticism" and cultural appropriation, but its mix of glitched electronics and penetrating drones that get pinched into shrill spikes stands on its own. "Scenes from a French Zoo" and the Angelo Badalamenti-esque "Vaccination (For Thomas Mann)" let the drones that guide much of the pair's work settle around listeners like a beautifully gloomy fog; what they lack in immediacy, they more than make up for in lasting impact. On these songs, Lopatin and Hecker take the sounds in their intentionally limited palette to places they may never have been expected to go, and the journey is intriguing and frequently lovely. That Instrumental Tourist's music was recorded in three days makes it all the more impressive, and bodes well for the rest of the SSTUDIOS albums.

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