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Tape - Milieu

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Artist: Tape

Album: Milieu

Label: Hapna

Review date: Mar. 11, 2004

Tape are a family trio of sorts. The Berthling brothers (Johan runs the Häpna label and has previously collaborated with Oren Ambarchi) call upon Tomas Hallonsten to help flesh out their muted, down-played vision. Arcing around a core of folk-drawn acoustic guitar, harmonium, and electronics/tapes, the band flesh out their songs with an armory of sparingly applied instrumentation and the odd special guest... if ‘flesh out’ is an appropriate term for such wildly understated music. You could try to hinge it into some kind of post-rock, instrumentalist tradition, but Milieu is far too slippery and interesting to sit well within such a backward context. Parts of Milieu are a little reminiscent of the psychedelicised folk song-forms of San Francisco’s Blithe Sons, but Tape have their own character: a hidden, humble, yet generous approach to piecing together their music; an elaborate take on an utterly charming modesty.

On “Crippled Tree,” a field recording documents a young lady calling out to her pet, a conversation between two men, the crunch of grass and dried weeds against shoes, the soft flurries of wind against microphone. Tape drop winding spools of acoustic guitar and tiny flickers of piano into the piece. You could imagine these sounds, drenched in reverb and made ‘mysterious,’ making up the core of some negligible, vapid New Age floatation – the most unfortunate sound next to silence. But Tape leave the sounds alone, letting their natural resonance ring out. “Crippled Tree” sounds like a trio of quiet, introverted musicians who’ve happened upon inhabited parklands. Unsure of why or where, they just settle into the context and play, softly.

If the trio’s music reminds me of anything, it’s the instrumental pieces that David Grubbs dotted through his past two solo albums, The Spectrum Between and Rickets and Scurvy. Small threads of acoustic guitar are tied together in unexpected weaves and tangles, left to figure their own way back to their original configuration, while armies of small sounds continually break the main motifs’ concentration. Tape repeatedly garland their folkish, lilting melodies with beautifully incongruous asides, like the electronic burbling and cutlery clatter that etches its way through “Golden Twig.” That the same track features some wonderfully hammy lap steel guitar is another indication of Tape’s ability to force several disjunctive sounds together into lovely, arch miniatures. So it’s ‘lovely’, ‘charming’, and ‘beautiful’ – but also quite moving, in its own adroit manner. Tape evince a certain dryness of approach; they never overstate the cause.

Thirty-two minutes, eight songs, sparsely arranged and gorgeously played. In a world of bald, bored exaggeration, such restraint and humility makes for a pleasant change of scenery. At the very least.

By Jon Dale

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