Considering they toil in such a benighted field, let us take a minute to appreciate the skill of whoever wrote the press release for Tape’s fourth album. In a crowded arena where everyone is saying ridiculous things like “our band sounds like no-one who has ever played a guitar”, the notes for the Stockholm trio’s Luminarium manages to touch all the informational bases and make the thing sound appealing while occasionally ascending towards something like beauty. By the time I read that the record was “a world which lets itself be sensed, not known”, I wanted to recruit the guy for PopMatters.
But he (?) also pre-empted maybe the best way to begin to describe Tape’s music. You can go more specific and concrete instead—the opening “Beams” is halfway between Earth’s last record and Radiohead’s “Hunting Bears”, “Reperto” is a canny imitation of the pastoral side of Minotaur Shock, “Illuminations” sounds like a lo-fi take on Eluvium’s sound circa Talk Amongst the Trees—but you miss something crucial about the feel of this band. It’s easy to start talking about the album as a whole in a similar fashion: It’s 41 minutes long, consistently pleasant, veers from sunny and relaxed to crepuscular and foreboding. A pleasure, but a minor one.
And yet… the more I listen to Luminarium, the less it seems that Tape are yet another entry into the increasingly crowded field of post-ambient, semi-abstract instrumentalists and more like they’re painstakingly trying to forge their own musical language. When critics say an album “grows on you”, they usually mean fairly immediately, whereas Tape are so unobtrusively enjoyable in a low-key way that you really do have to give Luminarium some significant time before you’ll begin to notice how much its recalibrated the rhythms and expectations of your taste. Going back to more obvious music afterwards is almost jarring, but rarely does verse-chorus-verse sound as unnecessary as Tape makes it seem.
I’m fond of music that’s oblique enough that it forces me to resort to spatial terms as I attempt to describe it, the way the organ splurts on “Fingers” seem to be dripping down onto and through the track. Or how “Parade” hems and haws for a couple of minutes until this glorious organ begins swirling around the song as the guitar plucks get less hesitant and shimmering and more measured. Sometimes, as on the delicate acoustic squeaks and strums of “Moth Wings”, Luminarium edges a bit too close to the predictable, but even then it’s hard to damn the track for being too conventionally pretty. Especially when it’s followed up be the oddly pulsing “Fingers”, which is no less compelling but markedly stranger.
Tape plays things pretty close to the vest, but Luminarium benefits from their inscrutability. You have to feel things out if you want to get a sense of their sound, and while it’s seemingly easygoing on the surface, you actually have to work away at it if you want these songs to really blossom. In other words it’s, er, “a world which lets itself be sensed, not known.”