TAPE: Opera Plus (Häpna) / TAPE: Milieu Plus (Häpna)


Posted on Jul 30th 2008 10:00 pm

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Tape: Opera Plus

Opera Plus
Häpna 2002/2008
13Tracks. 63mins54secs

Tape: Milieu Plus

Milieu Plus
Häpna 2003/2008
12Tracks. 51mins58secs

The pooled intuition of Johan Berthling, Andreas Berthling, and Tomas Hallonsten is manifested predominantly in tightly controlled, continually surprising spontaneous designs – a sort of tightrope walk between high energy free blurt and rigorous attention to form.  The Swedish group has been embracing – even celebrating – their stylistic contradictions since 2002, and the versatile, lysergic fusion of languid free jazz, ambient, folk, and broken balladry has since weaved itself stealthily, but inexorably, into the fabric of contemporary music.

Not for lack of imagination – the groups hot crackle of condensed energy has grown more dynamic and refined with each release – the ensemble has agreed to revive their first two full-lengths on the Häpna label.  And, more often than not, passing through these recordings as though through a photo album of baby pictures amounts to a warming experience.

In particular, Opera touches on all sorts of virgin turf.  Pattering electronics generate a vortex of rhythmic flux that horns, flutes, guitars, and accordions accentuate with bursts of zigzagging lightning.  On a whole, Andreas Berthling leads the backline, generating elastic melodies for the other two to trampoline from.  Through Leafed Hands, his recurrent, linking piano theme navigates the piece through a fog of flute, pulsating percussion, and liquid popping sounds.  More so than in later recordings – which grew more electronic and symphonic in nature – the heavy reliance on acoustic instruments and folk themes emphasizes the music’s physicality, particularly at the points where harmonica, trumpet, bells, and guitar converge and overlap, producing a gentle sense of chaos.

At over sixty minutes in length, the work lacks the concision and coherent development of later editions such as Rideau and their most recent effort, Luminarium.  Even so, in powering up their laptop and synth glissandos, they suggest a celestial space sagging under the weight of a payload of nostalgia.

Better still, the group’s second fledgling, Milieu Plus, pushes further into a deliberately slow creaking of guitar strings, softly played percussion, piano, organ, and filtered harmonies that gradually take the form of an atmosphere, rather than a song with a beginning and end.  Quality control remains out of reach, but improvement is evident in the more vivid rendering of this spectrum.  Again, moments of unselfconscious expression are borne more from the sheer joy of juggling shapes.  On this occasion, though, a masterly approach to cutting, layering, and destabilizing material is apparent throughout, rather than here or there.  This adds a welcome bite to the wiry textures and finely tuned sense of tension and atmosphere.  In the beginning, then, Tape were all technique and bravura, confidence and ambition. Their resuscitation of these albums thus seems entirely reasonable: it places them in a more understandable context.

Opera: 3/5 / Milieu: 3.5/5

Tape | Häpna
Buy: Opera Plus CD | iTunes | Milieu Plus CD | LP | iTunes

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