For whatever reason, Tijs Ham has decided to apply strict creative strategies to a conceptual series of Tapage albums, of which Eight is the second (its predecessor, naturally, was 2011's Seven). In this particular case, every one of the album's eight tracks is precisely eight minutes in length and played at eighty BPM. Such a scenario might lead one to imagine the album as a clinical exercise overly preoccupied with adhering to rules than a collection that's satisfying on purely musical terms. But as it turns out, Ham has managed to both honour the rules that he set forth for the project and produce eight pieces that are consistently strong no matter the strategies deployed in their creation. Ham liberally expands upon the Tapage soundworld by threading into the tracks electronics, synthesizers, acoustic instruments, field recordings, vocals, and (on one piece) violin and cello.
A number of things hold the project together, whatever the differences between the eight pieces. Rhythmically, Ham fixates on head-nodding trip-hop beats and also unifies the album by featuring Pinar Temiz's vocals on half of the tracks. It's these that are the strongest, in fact, due to the sultry appeal of Temiz's voice, and her presence lends the music a softness and fragility that's entirely welcome.
The opening track, “One of Eight” (the other seven similarly titled) establishes the instrumental character of the release in beefing up its brooding scene-painting with a crisp trip-hop beat. But it's with the second piece that the album springs to life, specifically when Temiz enters at the three-minute mark. Though Ham sets the scene for that moment by sculpting an entrancing electronic arrangement, it's her haunting voice that proves to be the most arresting element. On the also-memorable seventh track, the impact of her delivery is bolstered through the use of multi-tracking, with her voice both doubled up and arranged into a call-and-response pattern.
A pronounced classical feel emerges within the third piece when its opening minutes are allocated exclusively to multi-tracked violin and cello playing before vocals and beats appear. The fourth track parts company with the others in coupling its head-nodding groove with mandolin strums and starry-eyed electronic textures. Much of the album is subdued in tone (the stirring sixth, with its gentle piano and electric guitar treatments, an especially good example), with the unwavering tempo one factor accounting for the general laid-back feel and Ham's artful and fine-detailed sound design another. The eight-minute rule turns out to be a bit of a handicap in some instances, as in some cases six minutes might have been a more natural end-point, but for the most part Ham manages to hold the listener's attention from the beginning of a track to the end.
By its very nature, Hecq's Conversions can't help but be the less homogeneous of the two releases. For, as its title implies, Conversions isn't a collection of original works but rather an hour-long gathering of Hecq remixes by Ben Lukas Boysen of tracks by other artists. Boysen took care in fashioning the makeovers so that both the character of the original track would be retained while at the same time his Hecq signature would be present. His contributions notwithstanding, the diverse nature of the artists remixed—among them Bersarin Quartet, Bong-Ra, Anodyne, and Svarte Greiner—automatically guarantees that a dramatic degree of contrast between the productions is present.
In fact, a run-through of the first four pieces alone testifies to just how different the tracks are from one another. Up first, the mournful meditation “Zum Greifen Nah” by Bersarin Quartett (Thomas Bucker) retains its classical, strings-heavy make-up, no matter Boysen's contributions. Next, a swarm of jungle-inflected breakbeats thunders through “Hawa” by Ruby My Dear (Julien Chastagnol), while Roel Funcken's “Vertox Dreaming” becomes a shape-shifting blend of wobbly dubstep and Aphex Twin-styled effects. Changing things up once again, D-Saw's (Andre Winter) pulsating “Track 10:30” opts for underground Chain Reaction-styled dub-techno.
As if to accentuate the album's contrasts further, we have The Outside Agency's (Noel Wessels) “Godspeed” and its punishing beat patterns side-by-side with the nuanced ambient of Lusine ICL's (Jeff McIlwain) “Scheming.” In Boysen's hands, Bong-Ra's (Jason Kohnen) “666mph” becomes a lurching, dub-heavy colossus peppered with footwork snares and smothered in grime, while Svarte Greiner's (Erik Skodvin) “Final Sleep” closes the set with seaside atmospherics and supplicating choral voices.
Though it's obviously issued under the Hecq name, calling Conversions a Hecq album isn't wholly accurate, given its remix design. Truth be told, it's also difficult to determine how much of a given piece is Hecq and how much the original artist in the absence of the initial track, though there's little doubt the remixes strongly retain the character of the originals. Perhaps one might best think of Conversions as a representative sampling of Boysen's personal playlist, artists he might be listening to when not immersed in the business of creating his own material.