by Phillipe Roberts
Breezing zen-like through ten moon-drenched tracks, Chicago outfit The Hecks drill deep into the subconscious on their self-titled debut, blending despairing drone exercises with an appetite for feverish post-punk. The end result is an insomniac’s paradise, a record brimming with hypnotic melodies packed with just enough dissonance and claustrophobic clang to ward off sleep, reveling in a delirious detachment that’s best heard in the single-digit hours of darkness.
Opening track “Sugar” emerges from dead air ambience; feedback and the noise of a guitar plugging in deliver a warning, heating the air before a ragged triplet strum careens into view, defiantly channeling the brutalist punch of Wire with gusto. Content to savor the brittle crunch of their guitars, The Hecks leave the drums out of it, making it all the more satisfying when they arrive, charging out of the stable on “The Thaw,” their first proper instrumental workout. The dueling guitars duck and weave, sprinting in mathematical lock step alongside the relentless thudding of drums. Vocalist Andy Mosiman rides the rhythm with a confident, rambling style before the tangled jangle unspools, and the ping-ponging guitars dissolve into a no-wave blast.
Occasionally, the band’s intra-song style collisions can feel almost calculated, constructed to maximize the already jarring sensation of switching from delicate fingerpicking to brash full chord dissonance. However, the breathtaking pacing of the record (only two tracks even remotely approach the five minute mark), is its greatest saving grace; if you ever feel yourself slipping into uncertainty, take a deep breath and The Hecks will shift gears and sweep you away in no time.
Take the transition between “The Thaw” and “Landscape Photography,” where the floor quite literally drops out from under you as industrial thump gives way to a colossal rumble calling to mind tossing and tumble on a heavy sea beneath an ocean liner. The Hecks’ use of field recordings is quite impressive, allowing them to narrowly dodge the cliché of masquerading a few seconds of looped feedback as “ambient,” instead propelling the record further into nocturnal paranoia.
All over The Hecks, the band stretches itself, unafraid to settle into the ink black moodiness that they know so well, even as they flash their brilliant instrumental chops to provide a glimmer of hopefulness that’ll lift your heavy feet through their next distorted blizzard. Look no further than “Rockwell Nudes,” the record’s centerpiece of interlocked guitars turning overhead in a glittering field of stars. Mosiman seems trapped far below, his reverb-soaked voice obliterated beneath the heavenly gleaming. At 1:27, its headlights slink away into the night far too quickly, bright realization slipping right through your fingers seconds before nirvana. It’s a slice of perfection. Here’s hoping The Hecks have another waiting in the wings.