In 2018, Tim Hecker released his ninth studio album, Konoyo. He traveled to Japan and recorded with what's called a gagaku ensemble. Therefore, Japanese influence can be heard on the record. A year later, he released Anoyo, recorded from the same sessions. It is more or less the sister album to Konoyo. They are closely related, but different in some key ways.
Tim Hecker is an ambient musician. He fiddles a lot with electronic noises to create visceral atmospheres. Konoyo and Anoyo are examples.
In terms of Konoyo, I love that album nearly as much as Anoyo. But not quite. I'm talking about Anoyo here because it is especially amazing to me. And because I have a lot more to say about it.
This is my favorite cover art for any album. It depicts Earth as a cube, which is interesting and abstract on its own. But then there is the massive, black space surrounding it. Black space isn't anything new, but when it surrounds an object we know to be so massive compared to us, it seems all the more enormous. And it being a cube gives the music a feeling of being in a foreign, strange world not quite like our own.
Adjective dump time: Empty. Bleak. Lonely. Melancholy. Spacious. Dark.
This is highlighted when put alongside Konoyo. Konoyo's sound can be described as these things, but it is generally much more forceful, defined, and intense. Anoyo directly contrasts this by being more reserved, loose, and quiet.
So, it's not a surprise that I like it more. I'm very much into this sort of dark dreariness. Not where you are crushed by the weight of the darkness in fear, but where you accept it as you slowly fade away.
This album stands at a lowly 34 minutes, with 6 tracks. Again, this is contrasted by Konoyo's hour-long duration. Is this length to the album's benefit? In my opinion, no. It should be longer. If I had my way with Anoyo, it would be roughly 46 minutes long. This is because many, many parts that I love are not given enough time to completely settle in. There is a reason ambient music tracks tend to be longer. They're about mood, and to get into a certain mood takes time. I will go into more detail later.
1 - World
From the very first note of Anoyo, you can hear the Japanese instrumental influence. It is present on much of the album, and notably here. You can also faintly hear the sound of birdsong. A recurring phrase is established straight away with the delicate strings. This song is underlined by singular, low, deep bass notes that define the chords. They are contrasted again and again by the strings that play the minor sixth of the base note, followed by the motif that ends with the base note once again. It gives the song a sense of uncertainty, like it constantly wants to tip over.
Overlaid onto the track is wide, reverberated ambience that gradually pulses in and out. What sounds to me like a woodwind instrument plays different, but similar melodies now and again that punctuate through the noise to give it a sense of clarity. Strings are glitched, reversed, repeated. World feels like a beautiful chaos. It stretches and folds over itself and never stays still.
The track ends with something like whistles entering. High-pitched and squealing.
2 - Blur
They continue, getting higher, until they're sharply bludgeoned by absolutely crashing percussion. It booms in, completely changing the tone of the music. It's so sudden, but in this case, I like the tonal shift. These drums continue in a pattern for much of the song. There are three hits of the percussion, a pause. Three hits, a shorter pause. They continue, getting faster each time until ending. Then they repeat again. It's a mesmerizing pattern. You wouldn't expect something like this in dark, ambient music, but it works here.
And then simultaneously enters one of the most gorgeous musical phrases I've heard. It's a very, very simple melody, and only a few chords, but when done correctly, that's all it takes to put someone into a state of ecstasy. Gradually, the percussion gives way for this music to shine.
The melody echoes itself beautifully. The way this part is played out makes it sound so expansive. Like in a few short minutes you're able to experience the wholistic beauty of a nebula, or even a galaxy. It captivates me.
To me this track feels like the beginning of the ejection from the world you know. Everything blurs around you as you are launched away.
3 - Adrift
Blur gradually fades out to solid black. A single drone. This becomes the foundation for Adrift. Dark drones fill out the bottom of the space, and added on to them are high synth melodies, fading in and out of each other like fleeting light from a dying star. Like the rush has stopped, and now you're floating, looking over the world you knew as something separate. The notes reach upward, as if your hand is reaching out toward the place you left, trying to grasp it and falling shy.
There are layers added over this track, but they mostly build upon what is established early on. This is the most minimal track on the album. It's peaceful. It's empty. Soothing.
4 - Void
Void quickly grows into something more brooding and dissonant. The pace quickens as the track beats and thumps like a heart. Various noises in the background can be heard throughout the track, which mostly to me sound like doors being closed. Void is also very spacious, but instead of being peaceful, there is a sinister feeling that persists.
Many themes that are present in other tracks are also present in this one, like low drones, high synths and whistles, and the Japanese strings. They are put together in a less patterned way here, representing a feeling of fear and disorder. Whereas you were peaceful before, now the realization is kicking in that you are absolutely lost.
This track ends with very, very deep vibration noises. I have never heard a sound similar to this anywhere.
5 - Alone
These continue for a small bit into Alone, before the track quickly adds the same percussion that was present in Blur. However, this time, it doesn't fade out. It's a bit louder on this track and stays for the entire duration.
For this reason, Alone feels more like a reprisal of Blur than its own track with its own identity. Past the vibrating noise, virtually the only other layer added is one other instrument that plays alongside the drums. Singular, sad notes. So, it is different, but the fact that there is almost nothing else added to this track other than something we have already heard unfortunately makes it feel aimless, especially since it only lasts for three short minutes.
Continuing with the attempt at forming a cohesive story around the record, this could signify trying to go back in time, remembering the places closer to the world you knew, to deal with the anxiety of losing it.
6 - Fade
The bird noises make a return in the beginning. The strings assert themselves, playing notes confidently and loudly. This sort of makes it feel like an echo of World, which also began with birds and strings. The ambience enters and grows in volume, and it is gradually cut through by a version of the melody from Blur. This time, it sounds glitched and choppy, almost as if it's been corrupted. The rest of the music forms around this broken, fractured piece of time.
A recurring motif is added in this track. A note will walk up and down continuously, as if it's pacing in place. The chords here give a sense of closure, and these pacing notes serve to strengthen their voice.
Towards the end, one instrument plays a lone melody as the rest starts to fade out. Then the pacing notes become the focal point. It all gives way to nothingness.
There is no way to return home. And there is no need to struggle. Everything is gone.
- 1 - Adrift (Step Away from Konoyo)
- 2 - Blur (Is But a Simulated Blur)
- 3 - Void (Into the Void)
- 4 - World (That World)
- 5 - Fade (You Never Were)
- 6 - Alone (Not Alone)
My Issues With the Album
This is currently one of my favorite albums. Despite this, I have numerous issues with it.
First of all: Like I mentioned earlier, it's too short. It's great music, but it ends far too quickly. In my head, standard album length is around 45-50 minutes. 34 minutes is more of a mini-album length. There are several parts of the album that I wish would go on for longer:
- The latter section of Blur. This melody absolutely transfixes me to the music, yet the track that it's contained within is only four minutes long. I would give it another three minutes.
- Adrift as a whole. It's so beautiful and lonely, but the short length of the song really doesn't give me enough time to feel utterly enveloped by the emotion like I wish. I would also give this another three minutes.
- Void as a whole. Again, just too short. Not enough time to become fully absorbed within its atmosphere. At least another two minutes.
- The section at the end of Void and the beginning of Alone, with the vibration noise. This might sound dumb but I honestly love that sound so much that I would listen to solely that for two minutes straight and love it.
- Alone. Three minutes? That's just lame for an album like this. If it was a short interlude packed with unique noises then of course I wouldn't have a problem with it, but Alone is not that.
And that leads me into my next point, which is my biggest problem with the album: there is not enough variety. Tim Hecker releases an album that's an hour long full of interesting noises that change and morph relentlessly, then releases a half hour long album that somehow feels less dense. If you are going to release an album that short, you should make sure that it is filled with sounds that, while relating to each other in a cohesive way, should nonetheless always compel and surprise. Anoyo fails at this.
More specifically, my problem is with tracks 5 and 6. The first four don't really do this (although there are some sparse phrases that are connected to Konoyo, but those in particular don't bother me because the albums are meant to be connected and they are rare as well as not easily noticeable). Alone just copies the exact same percussion used in Blur. I don't understand this decision. It gives the track almost no reason to be there. It feels as if Tim ran out of recordings from Japan to use and so decided to reuse one.
Similar but not as egregious is Fade's recycling of Blur's main melody, as well as its chord structure. Yes, I have mentioned multiple times how much I love this section. But in Blur, not in Fade. The reason why I don't like it here is because its impacted is greatly lessened. Yes, it's a great part, but why reuse something that you already did in a previous song? It's not like it's a small motif or anything. It was the whole main point of the song and is what made Blur special in the first place. It's like putting the same song twice on a tracklist.
It's not as bad as Alone's recycling of the percussion, since it is changed a bit, but it still similarly steals away the identity of the song. And on an album with only six tracks, a third of them reusing material feels cheap and lazy.
What I Would Change
- World: unchanged 9:10
- Blur: extended ~7:00
- Adrift: extended ~8:00
- Void: extended (slightly more unique and varied) ~7:00
- Alone: extended (intro greatly elongated, percussion section removed, track totally changed) ~5:00
- Fade: extended (given new elements, melody and chords from Blur removed, outro more gradual) ~10:00
TOTAL TIME: ~46:10
I don't believe I have ever had this many problems with an album I love this much; that's how much I love what is good on it. If the changes I would make were implemented, this might be my favorite album ever. But as it is, it's still not that far off. It excels at creating exactly the type of atmosphere that I love so much in dark ambient music on several tracks, and it's very special to me for that. It has become the album to which I will compare other ambient records in order to judge their quality.
♥ ♥ ♥ Thank you for reading ♥ ♥ ♥