ibrary Tapes have fashioned a career out of snowfall and static. Three albums in, they’re beginning to thaw just a little. After releasing a couple of records on Resonant (including the seriously chilly Alone in the Bright Lights of a Shattered Life), the group have shed their label and quietly become a solo outfit. David Wenngren (for it is he who remains) has retained the Library Tapes name, but now releases through the autonomous collective of independent-minded musicians at Make Mine Music; also home to the excellent July Skies and Epic45.
As with previous Tapes work, Höstluft is constructed from two distinct layers of sound: a foundation of fuzzy field recordings, blanketed by the unfurling stagger of a lone piano. Prior efforts, though, have dedicated themselves to the bleak, monochrome vibe of a harsh winter or unexpected loss—an approach typified by track names like “Leaves Abstract in a Village Plunged into Mourning ...” and “Broken Piano Pt. 2.” On these records, the booming resonance of crumbling keys is complemented by distorted radio signals and stark cover imagery. Höstluft retains the two-layered approach, but with a touch more warmth and humanity. For a start, the artwork features a color beyond the black-grey-white spectrum for the very first time—an artificial daylight, bathing a lone tree and isolated lamppost in soft yellows.
Though the underlying audio occasionally revisits the scratch and cry of dying vinyl, the field recordings used here are far more inclined to give the impression of life, as opposed to cold, detached automation. There are noises which could pass for the nocturnal snufflings of a rodent, or the clatter of a moth’s wings against a light fitting. Elsewhere, canvas crunches may suggest a team of hardy explorers loading up their sled—and one snatch of sound appears to be the creaking timbers of a docked ship, perhaps awaiting the order to set sail into foggy waters. It seems that Wenngren wanted to gently lift the oppressive unease which had characterized previous releases, and create an atmosphere where the minutiae of the natural world could appear alongside the expanse of human endeavor. This subtle change in direction can be summarized by the industrial clank and clatter of a railway platform sharing space with splashes of rain against glass.
The same feeling carries through to the piano melodies which adorn the naturalistic base. Of course, these more traditional tones can still evoke sadness or raise the specter of dread; but the undulation of carefully placed notes now continue past these emotions, beyond contentment and towards beauty. The snow no longer comes only in deadly drifts, but appears in picturesque scatterings and playful flurries. Where once the sky never cleared, now the sun peeks through banks of cloud.
Sensibly, for an album which could have fallen afoul of repetition, individual chunks rarely exceed the four minute mark—and the entire piece concludes after thirty five. This relative variety shoos away any chance of fatigue, and offers a smooth transition between differing piano phrases. Greater emotional range ensures that the mood is always gradually altering—as if each track is slowly absorbing the one preceding it, like colored substances vying for dominance in a tumbler. With the lack of written prompts (names like “Skiss Av Träd” aren’t much help unless you happen to read Swedish) complete freedom of interpretation is possible, presenting a clean slate for the listening imagination to decorate as it sees fit.
Few could claim that this record demonstrates a huge aesthetic leap for Library Tapes. In terms of approach, a near-identical formula can be found on their debut. However, by tilting the mirror nearer the light, Wenngren has illuminated enough new sources to push the project to its peak. In doing so, he’s also channelled the overall sound away from the harrowing experiences of the past, and pointed it towards an equally abstract, but rather more accessible, present. It’s difficult to see how the Tapes can progress from here without taking some tough creative decisions, but, for the moment, Höstluft stands as the pinnacle of their craft.