Mixing politics with music demands a strong will and an even stronger statement to back it up. Far too often we're served albums that rely on blinkered viewpoints which, to even the casual cynic, appear to offer little more than a brief distraction from the formulaic backing track it's packaged with. Substance and real political value are sacrificed for convenient rhyming couplets and money-spinning one-liners. However, when on the rare occasion the politics/music mix is done well, it can be stark, shocking and incite, a whole new element to the sounds.

On previous Tim Hecker releases, the Canadian artist has remained enigmatic about what his music may have been inspired by and what it's purpose is. Ravedeath, 1972, for example, is merely the compiling of words to create something which neither relates to the music nor his personal political or social viewpoints. Until now, it's as if Hecker has almost deliberately omitted any world views he may have for the sake of leaving his music to be perceived as being whatever the listener wishes it to stand for. With Virgins, this all changes.

The artwork for Hecker's seventh full length depicts a robed figure stood upon a pulpit in a church - starkly similar to the images seen from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the location for the controversy just after the start of the Iraq war in 2004 where members of the United States army were photographed torturing Iraqi prisoners whilst grinning at the camera. This is referenced further in the track 'Incense at Abu Ghraib', Hecker making it explicitly obvious what his theme was for Virgins. The bleak, stark piano lines sprinkled throughout this album sharply pierce through the highly-processed textures of the various string instruments used to create the uneven canopy upon which the listener travels in and out of throughout the album. Just as you begin to focus on a segment of melody or structure it, just as quickly goes out of focus again, leaving you lost and looking for the next strand of sound to pick up on. You fumble through static, peek through an arpeggiated synthesiser and find yourself in a cold and distant room where a single piano plays the same loop over and over again.

On 'Live Room', the sound of a music box opens only to be overtaken and completely immersed by monster stabs of low-end distortion. All-encompassing but almost natural-sounding monoliths of bass swamp the mix leaving everything else in the room left to fight for it's life. It's these stark polars which lift Tim Hecker into a league of his own. A trick he's used many times in the past but one I'll certainly never get bored of hearing. A dense and highly emotive listening experience, one which could offset the mood of any optimist given the right environment. The closing track 'Stab Variation' - possibly a double-entendre which could refer to the rhythmic "stabs" of sound used or the more obvious, and macabre, link back to Abu Ghraib - begins with enveloping hits of distortion and climaxes with the finest and most defined slice of atmosphere of the entire album. The subtle bending of the notes on the strings gives the track an almost "eastern" timbre.

Comparing this to previous Tim Hecker releases, the same omnipresent sense of dread, regret and unknown guilt lingers heavy in the air, however Virgins seems more staccato and defined than, say, Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do It Again which excels at creating an hour of seamless ambience and droning beauty. This album behaves differently than the rest of his back catalogue and feels as if it has more of a "human" input. The swift edits and cuts between sound which occur occasionally suggest that the producer has decided to show some more of himself this time round, and given the themes surrounding it, adds even more potency to the political edge he's chosen to add to his work. When before we had anonymous landscapes and lonely rides through unknown dystopias, we now have an identity, purpose and meaning to the bleak and emotional sounds, and it's really quite astonishing.