Tape – Casino (Häpna)
Johan Berthling, Andreas Berthling, Tomas Hallonsten
Tape have been distilling minimalism, experimentalism and pure pop into inimitably ravishing music for fourteen years now. This, their sixth album, is their most luminous to date.
The group’s sound has evolved over the years, but its subtlety in artfully blending acoustic and electronic inputs is a constant. They recorded their first albums, Opera (2002) and Milieu (2003), under the cited influences of “the most gentle free jazz, Brian Eno’s ambient music, Swedish folk music and broken pop balladry” (and these are unusually reliable indicators). They made these early albums in “a small stone barn on the island of Öland, east of Sweden”, using “guitar, harmonium, melodica, field recordings, percussion, computer, harmonica, zither, piano, accordion, soprano sax and trumpet”. On Milieu they refined the more abstract, homespun sound of Opera, and they’ve continued that process of refinement, always drawing selectively from the same palette, on each subsequent release.
Tape’s album notes never specify their instrumentation, but Andreas Berthling plays electronics, as heard on a handful of solo recordings and a couple of collaborations with American electronica gadfly Kim Cascone, all issued around 1999-2002. Tomas Hallonsten is a busy session player on the Swedish scene: longstanding gigs include the trumpet part in Martin Küchen’s combustible jazz quartet Exploding Customer, and keyboards in Swedish indie band The Concretes. Last year he recorded an album, Time is a Mountain, with Wildbirds & Peacedrums drummer Andreas Werliin and Tape’s Johan Berthling. The latter has perhaps the highest individual profile, notably as bassist in Fire!, a trio he operates with Werliin and saxophonist Mats Gustafsson; and again on bass alongside drummer Paal Nilssen-Love in pianist Sten Sandell’s Trio. I recently caught a superb long-form installation/drone performance with Berthling on Hammond organ, bass and electronics in duo with the guitar, FX and kit drumming of Oren Ambarchi.
Johan Berthling also usually produces Tape’s albums, but for their third, Rideau (2005), they worked with Marcus Schmickler. Although none of their individuating essence was lost in the process, that collaboration produced their most austere and reductive sound to date. Further collaborations followed, notably playful and song-oriented recordings with Japanese duo Tenniscoats for their albums Tan–Tan Therapy (2006) and Papa’s Ear (2012), both produced by Johan Berthling, and issued, alongside the entire Tape catalogue, on the Häpna label which he co-runs.
Luminarium (2008) was well-titled, since on that album Tape captured their most limpid and accessible music to date. Revelationes (2011) was recorded over various sessions (by now the group were recording at their own Summa studio in Stockholm). With guest adding percussion, that album, uniquely in the Tape catalogue, has a subtle rhythmic impetus.
Having reverted to an absence of percussion for Casino, the trio’s multi-instrumental approach is further pared to a simple palette of analogue electronics plus guitar and/or piano and electric keys. Each of the album’s seven tracks lasts an even six or seven minutes, and each is gently insistent and acutely melodic; each an instant hit of pure aural pleasure.
On the album’s opening track, “Seagulls”, analog electronics in analogue dolphin-talk ripple across minimally cyclical guitar patterning of high-toned keyboard sustains, organ embellishments and cavernous, percussive pulses: multiple layers of sound, from the etherial to the implicitly subterranean.
“Repose” is lighter, with whorls of electronic FX drifting over subtle variations on a repeat figure played on guitar; a painterly accumulation of raw sonic filigree enriching the tune’s affecting simplicity. The tempo increases almost imperceptibly until bolstered by a sympathetic bassline, and a reflexive structural tightening amplifies the tune’s melodic contours.
The deeper resonances of a piano supplants guitar on “Alioth”, and though the melodic line is initially more emphatic and elaborate, bolstered by both the piano’s natural pedalled sustain and the shadowing of electronic counterpoint, over time it becomes languid and introspective, as if seduced by Andreas Berthling’s spritely electronics. (In concert Tape’s pianist is Johan Berthling.)
On “Goemon”, deep, thrumming bass, simple notes picked out on electric piano, and a thread of comparatively steely guitar (think Fennesz’ Endless Summer) enriches a tapestry of electronic sound embroidered by the central, cleanly-picked guitar figure. Eventually the track’s melodic essence billows on a plume of organ tones. Likewise, a simple but insistent guitar figure propels the comparatively urgent “Craps”, creating eddies that swirl like fireflies in the warm aural glow of its enfolding amniotic electronica.
The early touches of piano are echoed in the melodica that amplifies and plays variations on the limpid guitar at the melodic heart of “Merak”, and is heard again, sparingly, amid bell tones that blossom amid “Eagle Miaows”, the album’s final track. In the elegant minimalism of this track’s guitar part, Tape realise the apotheosis of Casino‘s beguiling apparent simplicity.
Fire! Orchestra – Enter + Fire! – Without Noticing
Buy Casino direct from Häpna.