Canadian experimental ambient artist Tim Hecker made his debut on the legendary 4AD label with one of his most ambitious works yet, 2016's Love Streams. The album includes vocals by the Icelandic Choir Ensemble with arrangements scored by Jóhann Jóhannsson, who released two albums on 4AD during the 2000s. With the exception of the occasional remix, Hecker has never incorporated vocals into his work prior to this album, and he deconstructs the human voice in a similar manner to the way he manipulates acoustic instruments. He encouraged the vocalists to make bizarre sounds in a nonsensical language, and the voices are sometimes fed through Auto-Tune, further twisting and exaggerating them. The idea of processing liturgical choirs through 21st century pop and hip-hop aesthetics seems like it could be a disastrous novelty, but it makes perfect sense within Hecker's landscape of granulated electronics. On tracks such as "Bijie Dream," the synthesizer melodies seem to thrash around as if they're stuck in sand, never sticking to a steady rhythm, but urgently pushing and fighting their way through. The vocals seem to behave this way at times, erupting in tonal clusters and mutating into strange, garbled noises that approximate Hecker's fuzzy textures and static bursts. While some of Hecker's work can be harsh and bleak (at least in the realm of ambient music), Love Streams is one of his most vibrant, melodic works. In addition to vocals, there's a heavy presence of woodwinds on the album, as well as what sounds like steel pan drums. Both of these elements add rich tonal colors as well as softly throbbing rhythms to the music, particularly on pieces like "Violet Monumental II." There are still a few alarming moments of disruptive noise, such as the beginning of the stunning "Castrati Stack," but they're smoothed out by the rippling melodies and heavenly vocals. Love Streams is easily Hecker's most accessible work to date, yet it's also one of his most challenging, as it finds him pushing his sound into new directions while he explores the possibilities of the human voice.
AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson