By Mark Abraham | 29 July 2008
Luminarium, dropping three years after the majestic Rideau, is a vaguely disappointing affair. And I’m going to qualify that statement quickly, because everything the trio behind Tape excel at is here in spades; Tape’s beautiful fourth album simply lacks the kind of sprawling, massive centerpiece that grounded their third. Said track—“A Spire”—is the type of composition that makes the connections between minimalism, out, and pop music seem as simple as an arm swing across the monkey bars, and each moment before the hand of our metaphorical swinger connects with paint coated metal? Explosive, but dolled out in the most reserved, tense way possible. Luminarium attempts to live inside that space, avoiding the grandiose gestures for a matte description of atmosphere.
Maybe it’s the shortened track lengths, perhaps, but the songs here just don’t build like they used to. And sure, there’s a place for that; these fleeting glimpses into a carefully calculated aesthetic still seeth in their own way, raised fists raging as filtered ghosts beneath a plaintive guitar or piano. That’s how Tape gets you, obviously, like fellow rock-arranged chamber groups like the Clogs or Bell Orchestre, stuttering through ideas that are each themselves a different kind of melancholy handshake, or a parting sigh, or a tearful embrace. But this in-and-out textural revision of a consistent mood was done so much better last year by Gultskra Artikler on Kasha Iz Topora, where the lack of any real lenghty workout or crescendo or climax at all was a crucial element to the tease the album presented. With Luminarium I can’t help but feel that Tape hasn’t quite developed these short pieces enough to not give over to something more…brutal, maybe, or just with more of an edge. I mean, it’s not like they need to add crazy drums or anything; I just feel like while each of these moments is pretty they are, in total, kind of sedate.
Now, this is a complex line Tape is treading. The point here is obviously to pare everything they’ve been doing down to a very sparse delivery, often lead by contemporary jazz-like guitar leads and over-ripened organ. Track to track, this makes for some gorgeous little numbers. Opener “Beams” presents a guitar being almost as plaintive as a guitar might possibly sound, for example, while “Fingers” turns a sports arena organ riff on its head. “Parade” actually seems like it’s clicked percussion and chords will build somewhere, and the vaguely free “Dripstone” is almost smothering with its complex palette of electronic accents and dark distorted guitar stutters. And each of these tracks is delicate and pretty and sad and very nice to listen to, but each feels like a sketch without a more coherent framework (either within the song or upon the album; I’m not sure) to move within in.
Ultimately, Luminarium will absolutely satisfy any desire for delicate compositions and gorgeous production, but I can’t really get more excited about it than that. There is something fragmented or undeveloped here, and I think Tape is missing what made an album like Rideau great: the constant surprise of hearing a band build upon already incredible ideas. Imagine if “A Spire” was simply the opening piano line before the acoustic guitar came in; it would still be a raw and wound track for sure, but would it carry the same weight? That’s how I kind of feel about every track on Luminarium: they are points of departure, but we never seem to get where the band’s hinting we should be going, or really even get on the boat. Then again, sometimes the wharf is a beautiful place. Just maybe we don’t need to feel the ground float beneath us ten times in a row.