On Anoyo, the follow-up to last year’s Konoyo, Tim Hecker taps into spaces left unexplored by the gagaku ensemble.
An artist’s more recent work can get arbitrarily compared to their past releases, but it’s fairly rare when two back-to-back projects hold an undeniable kinship. Companion albums, as they’re sometimes known, can end up being redundant leftovers or complementary extensions of what preceded them. In the case of Tim Hecker, his latest, Anoyo, shares a classical Japanese ensemble (formally called a “gagaku”) palette with 2018’s Konoyo, but treats its textures in a completely different yet rewarding way.
If Konoyo built an expansive, glacial plain around me during my listening experience, then Anoyo exists to slowly melt it away. Opening track “That world” reintroduces the Japanese instrumentation in its more natural state. The strings and woodwinds thrive at the forefront of a looming, intermittent synth backdrop. It’s a tone setter, while also previewing the more spacious song structures that appear during the rest of the album’s twenty-five minutes. What’s especially moving to me is the gliding, reversed string and flute samples that coincide with their untouched counterparts. This technique shows up a handful of times on Anoyo, indicating that Hecker has taken a subdued approach to his typical sound design choices.
This same contrast remains persistent, and it’s all because the organic components of the music have so much room to breathe. There may not be a better example of this than on songs “Is but a simulated blur” and “Not alone”. The ancient gagaku percussion is seemingly identical on both tracks, leading me to believe they’re the same recording. On the former, a gradually building set of commanding drum rolls propel Hecker’s signature drone, while the latter sees those same drums as the focal point, accompanied by a much fainter background. Both of these percussive displays symbolize the sonic differences between Anoyo and Konoyo, and it consistently comes down to the utility of the gagaku ensemble — one takes these unique tones and uses them to enhance the desired atmosphere, while the other lets them emit whatever aura they naturally possess. Finally, “You never were” is a nod to the more sporadic and glitchy production of Hecker’s early discography; it certainly feels like a perfect vehicle to connect Anoyo to its predecessor. Because of this, I never get a sense of finality from this conclusion, but another reason to explore the respective landscapes each project lays out all over again.
Like many successful relationships, both Anoyo and Konoyo contain unique strengths and weaknesses the other doesn’t. Sometimes when placed beside one another, their differences emphatically validate the existence of the other. While I understand this is a review of Anoyo, I can’t help but hold its identity as a companion album as a virtue. Where too much stylistic repetition can dampen an artist’s work, Tim Hecker manages to justify this familiarity by exploring all possible avenues of a beautifully unusual collaboration