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Tim Hecker - My Love is Rotten to the Core

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Artist: Tim Hecker

Album: My Love is Rotten to the Core

Label: Substractif

Review date: Sep. 19, 2002

Plundering the Still-Warm Rock Enthusiast

Grafting a timeline from the present state of digital noise electronics to its plausible roots, it’s interesting to consider what proves more and less congruous with the vertical axis of the genre. Conceptually, New York’s loft-era drone is relevant as ambient groundwork; The Stooges, and eventually everything from Motorhead to Minor Threat, forged a precedent of the confrontational aesthetic, while the miscellaneous ranting of Mike Watt established a platform for faux-political commentary. The seminal techno of Detroit and Manchester, as well as the latter’s simultaneous penchant for delay-drenched dream pop, seems more directly relevant, and the underground noise cassette network is likely the most recent point of reference. Eighties’ hair metal, however, has never really entered the equation for me.

It’s not entirely clear whether Tim Hecker would argue the place of radio-friendly cock-rock in his own pedigree, which may be the overriding problem on My Love is Rotten to the Core, his most recent contribution to the ever-expanding laptop ranks. The project is less a meditation on sound than a misguided rumination on bygone musical culture and media glut, a collision of plunderphonics and sound collage, recycled shred-guitar meets exclamatory rock journalism meets textured noise ambience. In terms of scale, the elements aforementioned are disproportionate: Hecker derives a 25-minute EP from an aural concept (media vs. art ? media as art) demanding a full-length recording and a thesis (the rise, fall, and symbolic properties of the Van Halen trajectory) that strains to justify its own existence.

Assuming the critical relevance of upbringing and pre-pubescent experience, it’s not altogether difficult to imagine Hecker’s point of entry for the material. By now, as children of the eighties (who bought post-punk on reissue last year and hair metal, glistening in a foot-tall display sleeve, when it was brand new), we’ve moved from reifying Van Halen, to rejecting them out of hand, to flaunting them ironically, to accepting the FM transfiguration they achieved with David Lee Roth. The perfect synthesis of inspired perversion and amped stadium balladry, their brilliance was as self-evident as it was self-effacing. Roth, and even Sammy Hagar, were first-rate buffoons with a penchant for showmanship and a self-conscious indulgence in everything their younger peers in the LA heyday mistook as heredity. Van Halen roared out of California in 1978, a year when waning prog, middle class rock, and mainstream punk ruled the charts. The band’s persistence and swagger was anything but accidental: they came up in recession, escorted Reagan into power, and subsequently adopted a similar but more intentional senility, a sort of late-blooming adolescence that played orgy as irony at the expense of Kurt Loder, Vince Neil, and every teenager in North America. I won’t posit that they didn’t enjoy the excess of epoch and accomplishment, neither that they were any kind of closet philosophers, but to reduce Van Halen to an emblem of hard rock decadence is to place them afield of a laughable mediocrity their music has long transcended.

Enter sound-file eclectic Tim Hecker, the same Hecker who just last year dropped his Substractif/Alien 8 debut, Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do It Again, a pulsing work of mood ambient and drone textures. The disc was a departure from his techno-oriented Jetone material, and Rotten to the Core marks a similar, if dubious, transition in form. Social historicism notwithstanding, it remains evident that Hecker has a legitimate knack for this racket; he coaxes a genuinely devastating sound from his musical source material, primarily fractured guitar riffs. Processing an Eddie Van Halen fret-tap solo, “Hello Detroit” derives a mournful air from the once benedictory and anthemic. Hecker suspends each bar on a tragic plateau, descending in steps to a vaguely nihilistic condemnation: hair metal lost, even in the arena of kitsch-renaissance revival. Most important, however, was its loss of the autonomy that self-deprecation and misogyny struggled dually to maintain, reduced now to a property of area studies and laptop scalpels.

Hecker’s distended presence as composer, forged of media collage in tandem with musical shards, treads heavily on the presentation of the album, and proves the EP format too frail for the mark of the subjective documentarian. Substractif’s proposed reference point is Christian Fennesz, whose sixties-tinged Endless Summer was among the best releases of 2001. Texturally the comparison works, nascent as the sound-sabotage contingency makes strange bedmates of Austrians and French Canadians with markedly different agendas. Fennesz neutralizes his source material, opting largely for a sort of lilting paralysis; for even when his references are overt (“Paint It Black”), he never really seeks to reflect on them, having wholly incorporated a sound as resource, rather than subject.

Hecker, meanwhile, teases commentary from his appropriated source material. It isn’t so much an issue of hubris as that of an elusive medium, challenging to triumph musically-shaded criticism as singular immediacy. The product is a sort of multi-media work of non-fiction, selectively bridging history and sounds, borrowed and invented, in its attempt to synthesize disparity in some vessel of revelation. Theoretically engaging, but Hecker ultimately frames a dispensable statement in a striking, if delinquently romantic, recording. I can forgive an interest in just about any style of music (and in the case of Van Halen, I may even applaud), but to justify its relevance in relation to contemporary culture, and to critique it in relation to its own, is another matter entirely.

By Tom Roberts

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Find out more about Substractif

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