Since his last release on Kranky, Tim Hecker has been busy with soundtrack work—most recently for Brandon Cronenberg’s science fiction horror film Infinity Pool. As a result, a directness of intent and execution has settled into his musical approach. The press release for No Highs challenges the listener to find any meditative peace in the album’s approach to ambient music. Many of the pieces feature an insistent tremolo that creates a sense of anxiety and forced displacement toward an uncertain destination. On its surface, the album revisits Hecker’s earliest techno work under his Jetone moniker, but the pulse of minimalist electronics is scattered with the contrails of his subsequent experiments. The hard-edged shapes of the classic synthesizer sounds suggest the kind of retrofuturist leaning that stands apart from the vaporizing effects central to his best-known albums.
The opener, “Monotony,” is propelled by the extended skip of a single note, like Morse code, descending past a slurry of tones, including hints of Colin Stetson’s saxophone, and into the rest of the album. Late in the album’s descent, the opening theme returns, this time answered more directly by Stetson, whose signature fluttering blossom of ever-uncoiling breath wraps itself around Hecker’s entreaty. This collaboration is key to the feel of the album, as their interplay defines a move from menace to exhaustion that spans the album to its conclusion, “Living Spa Water,” asserting that Hecker’s ambient new age is more EDM than ECM.