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Tape - Revelationes

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Artist: Tape

Album: Revelationes

Label: Hapna

Review date: Mar. 15, 2011

When not thoughtfully made, ambient music can feel blankly aspirational, like a bad yoga class. Of course, there’s always been bad, purposefully ignorable music, but the genre has been around long enough that the tropes now speak as loud as the experience of the music. A yawning drone is often just that: a boring imperative to chill. There’s a qualitative difference between listening to a piece of music that’s ambient by dint of having all the corners shaved off and any sign of instrument-playing effaced, and one that fully realizes the potential of quiet music, regardless of process.

The Swedish trio Tape do that rare thing: communicating mindfulness and slowness through simple, melodic, and cleanly recorded music, with no obvious reverb, delay, drones or loops. And, among peers like Colleen and Jasper TX, brothers Andreas and Johan Berthling and Tomas Hallonsten do it in the most interesting way. A contrast between clearly articulated sounds and a maximally relaxing effect is at the root of the trio’s gentle approach to making music. Most of the songs don’t take long to reveal themselves: you know within the first moments of most tracks which instruments and melodies will be the focus. It sounds very uncomplicated, but the simple patterns that make up Tape’s music are concise, elliptical and hard to exhaust. Even without the element of surprise, I can’t seem to tire of it. Listening on headphones, it’s obvious that the clarity of Revelationes’ mix is as important as the lovely melodies: every instrument and texture has a distinct identity in the stereo field such that there’s a sense of space and oxygen even when everyone is playing. The album opens with jazzy drumming that flickers, unaccompanied, for a moment before slotting into a larger arrangement: letting the sounds pool and eddy like this is one of the main pleasures of Tape’s music. And Revelationes finds Tape hitting the mark on every track, making for the trio’s best album yet.

Tape could just as well be described as post-rock through a rural Swedish lens, electronic folk, post-classical, or whatever: What you hear will likely be an accident of memory and a challenge to describe. This dual sense of familiarity and strangeness, and the personal reaching it motivates, is another source of the band’s considerable appeal. I hear the meandering in-between moments of Tortoise circa 1994’s Tortoise fleshed out into a real song on closer “Gone Gone.” Yet this doesn’t challenge my sense that Tape makes utterly original music: unlike Tortoise, or much post-rock, there are no moments where everyone jams on the same riff, and unlike folktronica, Tape’s music feels substantial rather than fey. Simply put, understated beauty is what makes Revelationes stand out. How often do we get to think that?

All of which leads to the conclusion that the best analogues for Revelationes are bound to be unusually personal and evocative. More than Tortoise, it reminds me, for example, of reading Kenzaburo Oe’s A Quiet Life. You probably had your own serendipitous encounter with a culture whose sensibility you seemed to share; Tape’s albums tap into that domestic feeling of attraction in a way that only someone as well-traveled and pro-gentleness as Momus can explain succinctly. The members of Tape themselves are succinct, with each album marking a considerable refinement of what came before. So while it’s sad that Revelationes makes the previous, superb Luminarium sound a bit rough around the edges, it’s also a promise of epiphanies to come.

By Brandon Bussolini

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