Album Review: Tape Loop Orchestra - Held Against The Light

I wonder if people grow weary of reading my reviews (in general) but especially reviews that are about ambient or experimental music, because they wince every time I use the word “evocative” or “transcendental”—and yes, I am well aware of how often I use (and overuse) those words when writing about experimental music.

But, in my limited lexicon’s defense, how else do you describe wordless music to someone? The other common descriptors I run to do not apply, and if it is successfully executed instrumental music, it should transport the listener somewhere, or should conjure up some kind of emotions out of them.

So, here we go—another chance to transcend; another chance for something to be evoked right out of you.

Andrew Hargreaves has hit a prolific streak. Beginning less than a year ago with Go Straight Towards The Light of All That You Love, his Tape Loop Orchestra output has been strong—both in the sheer amount of material he’s putting out, as well as the quality of what he releases. Hargreaves closed out 2016 with the incredible two-piece suite The Invisibles, and just mere months ago, released the ethereal Instrumental Transcommunications.

Hargreaves can’t stop and won’t stop, and he has returned with Held Against The Light, a studio version of a 40-minute piece he composed specifically for a live performance in Chicago.

With the way the Tape Loop Orchestra has evolved since the beginning of 2013, there are two distinct sides (and sounds) to the project. Hargreaves has slightly moved away from the dusty, decaying loops found on his classic In A Lonely Place, and has since embraced both haunting, lush string arrangements, as well as spooky, fragmented, and creeping dissonance. Occasionally the worlds collide, but overall, he strikes a balance that keeps them as separate as they can be.

Held Against The Light falls into that lush, orchestral category. Somber and fragile in ways that words won’t be able to do justice to, this piece works almost effortlessly to envelop you in its warmth, pulling you down deep into its layers of strings, finding those places within the darkness where the lush and organic and the spooky fragments collide with astounding, breathtaking results.

Sequenced as one, long 40-minute seamless piece of music, Held Against The Light is unrelenting, but never oppressive. Like nearly all Tape Loop Orchestra compositions, the best listening experience is with a pair of headphones, and a clear and open mind.

And yes, believe it or not, it is evocative in the atmosphere it weaves, creating a transcendental experience for the listener. (Sorry.)

Exponentially more accessible (as accessible as experimental music can be) than Instrumental Transcommunications and The Invisibles, Held Against is similar in its atmosphere to the 2014 one-off piece, “Yesterday, This Would Have Meant So Much to Us.” It’s another success for Hargreaves as an ambient and experimental composer, another stand out in an already stellar canon of work, and most importantly, a true statement of beauty that isn’t easy forgotten after the music swells one final time and slowly swirls into nothingness.