Maximilian Hecker: Lady Sleep

Maximilian Hecker's third full-length is filled with fragile jewels so seductively lovely they're sure to melt the iciest soul. In the Berlin-based troubadour's own words, the album's central topic is “the longing for a disembodied state, symbolized by the longing for symbiosis, love, death, anaesthesia, bliss, and lunacy.” That general theme of surrender is entirely captured by the elegiac feel that reigns throughout, especially on songs like “Help Me” which recall the melancholy grandeur so magnificently conjured on Sigur Ros's Agaetis Byrjun. Perched perpetually in an upper register (a lower pitch appears once in “Full Of Voices”), Hecker's hushed singing possess a feathery and almost androgynous quality; if his angelic, choir-boy vocal in “Dying” is, in fact, the sound one hears when shuffling off this mortal coil, it can't happen too soon.

With its ruminative cascades of classical piano, sombre strings, and soaring cadence of Hecker's voice, “Birch” establishes the album's melancholy tone at the outset. The first of the album's highest peaks follows, the dreamily lulling “Anaesthesia” with hooks so lovely they're shiver-inducing. Admittedly, lyrics like “Oh, tonight is the night of my life / And tomorrow is the first day of my life” won't win Hecker any awards, but that hardly matters once the song's gorgeous piano and wordless vocal passages surface. And, believe it or not, calling “Help Me” heavenly is an understatement. Opening with a Sigur Rós organ line, Hecker's whisper intones a slow, gorgeous melody, his voice echoed by a phantom choir. Following that, a piano states the song's minimal theme and a fuller arrangement develops with Hecker's wordless plea duplicating the piano melody. Even better, the song is just the right length and refrains from dissipating the impact of its beauty through needless repetition.

Some listeners may find themselves itching for some deviation from the ballad template by the album's midpoint, a desire Hecker satisfies though not perhaps in the manner expected. Though the penultimate song “Yeah, Eventually She Goes” begins gently like the others, explosive metal guitar roar unexpectedly appears. Why he chose to annihilate the hypnotic spell cast so strongly until then is mystifying, though repeated exposure softens the roar's anomalous impact. Less jarring contrasts emerge in the sunnier mood of “Everything Inside Me Is Ill” and the closing title track where glockenspiels enhance the song's lullaby feel. Lady Sleep is sometimes so beautiful, your only recourse is to surrender to its plentiful charms.

One additional note: There's also a Help Me EP, though it's not being released commercially; it's scheduled to be available for order from the Kitty-Yo website and at Hecker's concert appearances. The disc includes the title track along with a video treatment by Liisa Lounila, plus two non-album songs, “The Days Are Long And Filled With Pain,” a piano ballad composed by Hecker and sung by Niina Susanna Rinne that's as affecting as anything on the album, and “Sleepy Lad,” an equally lovely instrumental that one could easily mistake for Sigur Rós.

April 2005