Album Review: Tape Loop Orchestra - The Invisibles

Out of all the artists and bands I follow, keeping up with Andrew Hargreaves’ project the Tape Loop Orchestra proves to be the most difficult. One of three projects he’s involved with, Hargreaves has no Facebook presence or website for TLO, and all of efforts issued under the TLO moniker have either been self released or come from very small European labels specializing in extremely limited editions.

Last week I had a moment where I thought to myself, “I wonder what Andrew Hargreaves is up to,” so I went to Twitter and found that, yet again, I had slept on ANOTHER new Tape Loop Orchestra album, The Invisibles, released on November 10th. Perhaps if my timeline weren’t clogged with people talking about the election, or that pipeline in North Dakota, or whatever, maybe I would have known about it sooner.

Missing my opportunity to grab a copy of the limited edition vinyl (without paying the mark-up on one via Discogs), unlike nearly every other TLO release to date, The Invisibles is thankfully available as a digital download from the electronic and experimental music website Boomkat. Split into two 20-minute parts, The Invisibles also marks the first time Hargreaves has collaborated with another person on a TLO release—accompanied this time by singer Beth Roberts, whose voice is sampled and manipulated throughout both parts; and it’s actually Roberts’ ethereal voice that you hear first as the first movement of part one begins.

Arriving mere months after the long gestating TLO full-length Go Straight Towards The Light of All That You Love, The Invisibles finds Hargreaves operating within a much more developed and fuller-sounding atmosphere. Go Straight Towards The Light, as well as 2012’s In A Lonely Place, were both structured around decaying, distant, and sometimes murky sounds. Here, however, everything is very present and very urgent—the inclusion of human vocals many assist in creating this dynamic, as well as Hargreaves’ choice in basing both compositions primarily around haunted, dramatic strings.

The first part of The Invisibles sets the tone with an unnerving tension by bringing a low, ominous layer of white noise in under Roberts’ phrasing before adding the aforementioned strings, which deliberately and slowly sweep into the piece.

The first movement of part one concludes around seven minutes in, when Roberts’ vocals slowly rise out of the ether, signaling a change in pacing with the string sequencing. While there always was an eerie chill running throughout part one, the first portion, due to its soundscape, was somewhat welcoming or at least warm to a listener; however, an icy shadow casts itself with the second portion, which focuses more on the unsettling droning and white noise, as strings swirl around.

Roberts’ vocals return at the 15-minute mark, bringing about another shift in movement for the first part—the strings sweep back in slowly, crafting a somber, melancholic, nearly cinematic closing sequence that eventually descends into the lo-fi murk that Hargreaves has built many of his pieces around.

The Invisibles’ second part steers Hargreaves, ever so slightly, back into that murk, as he works to build and juxtapose the decaying warbles with warm, comforting tones. Of the two pieces on this album, it’s the most evocative, as well as the most transcendental; it may be his most transcendental and emotionally driven composition since the one-off single “Yesterday, This Would Have Meant So Much to Us.”

This second part accurately sums up what I love about ambient and experimental music—it’s the kind of music that you literally get lost in. Through a steady build that continues to add layers and elements, it pulls you in and takes over completely so that you lose track of just about everything else around you.

And that’s just the first 12-minutes.

All of that grandeur is eventually stripped away, as a low rumble and shimmering strings take over, and Roberts’ fragile, haunted vocals return within the second movement, prior to its otherworldly, circling conclusion.

In A Lonely Place was one of my top three records of 2013, and it really opened a lot of doors for me as far as listening to and appreciation experimental and ambient music. That album’s emotional impact and ability to evoke a reaction, or feeling from me, was what resonated the most. While I enjoyed Go Straight Towards The Light immensely (the packaging alone is incredible) it lacked that emotional weight—which is something that Hargreaves has managed to regain and tuck back into his work with The Invisibles. Within these two pieces, he is able to, again, make (nearly) wordless music that is able to conjure myriad emotions will haunt you long after you are done listening, and he makes it look effortless.   

The Invisibles is out now via Other Ideas.