Decades after The Replacements sang about hating music (too many notes, and such), Tim Hecker recorded ‘Hatred of Music,’ the two-part centerpiece of 2011’s Ravedeath, 1972. Hecker was not delivering the hatred, but viewing helplessly/solemnly as the art form was tarnished and destroyed. It was music to imagine a world without it.

Hecker seeks not only to preserve music, but to honor traditions while filtering them through his lens. Just as Love Streams was his take on "liturgical aesthetics after Yeezus,” Konoyo, his ninth album, is Hecker drawing inspiration from gagaku, Japanese court music that dates back to the 6th century. Recorded in Tokyo with gagaku professionals using traditional instruments (such as the hichikiri, shō, and ryuteki), it’s as aurally transcendent as anything Hecker has ever recorded.

Artists lesser than Hecker will use drone or forge a dark atmosphere out of layered effects as a means of obscuring their lack of ideas. The brilliance of Konoyo is that Hecker’s compositions would be just as stirring with a completely analog, unmanipulated approach, but his exploration of how far sounds can go is done out of curiosity, not indifference. He knows beauty, but he never tries to force his music to appear as such. The ten-minute ‘In Mother Earth Phase’ sounds like a reflection of a better, but still feasible world from his POV. Things seem to be hitting their breaking point early on, like a storm cloud being inhaled by a tornado, but Hecker offers a hazy rainbow instead of a thunderclap. Each movement, from the eerily calm beginning to the proud strings of the ending, is worthy of its own song but it works incredibly as a collective whole.

Named for the world of the living in Japanese belief, Konoyo is as clear of a title as Hecker has given a project since An Imaginary Country. It’s all about movement, from life to death as well as from section to section. Like any drone artist, Hecker thrives on the slow burn, but albums like Virgins and Love Streams, if maybe not grindcore, had stabs of explosiveness in timbre and tempo. Konoyo isn’t lacking these moments, but they’re not as readily apparent. Thanks to significantly lengthier song times, Hecker can more easily alternate fury and stillness or blur the lines completely. Opener ‘This Life’ blows a chilling drone across its landscape, making it colder by the second, before bells chime as if in panic, not joyous occasion. As even harsher textures cut across it like it’s the finest of glass, you’re left stunned, wondering how Hecker has once again proven himself such a master of musical architecture and demolition.

As one track fades in another (like the ghostly ‘Is A Rose Petal of the Dying Crimson Light’ leading into to the expansive ‘Keyed Out’ or ‘In Mother Earth Phase’ into the foggy ‘A Sodium Codec Haze’), Hecker’s touch has a omniscient power, where you can trust him to lead the way at every turn. The fifteen-minute closer, ‘Across to Anoyo’ (named for the world of the dead in Japanese belief), brings together every strength of Hecker to create one earth-shaking track. What starts as a mesmerizing dream is brought to wakefulness with each thud of the percussion and pluck of the strings, as Hecker, already a musical Theoi Meteoroi, crafts one of his finest storms yet before showing just how low the low end can be. You have to hear it to believe it, and even then, you might be pinching yourself.

Each time I’ve listened to Konoyo, there’s been one moment (of sorts) that catches me off-guard and cements it as one of Hecker’s greatest achievements. As ‘Keyed Out’ subverts my expectations for the 10th time in five minutes, I realize I have no absolutely where this is going, and I don’t want it to end. As I write this, I look out my window and see a light pink sunset stretched out across an overcast sky, with the occasional bird soaring along it. Our natural world may not need artistic representation, but there’s few better to reflect upon it than Tim Hecker.