Tape Loops (Trans Records)
Think of Tape Loops as a palate cleanser for Chris Walla, after departing Death Cab for Cutie last year. Since 1997, he's been a key figure in Northwest indie rock as a songwriter, producer, and guitarist. Now Walla has made a five-track instrumental album out of tape loops called... Tape Loops. What it reveals is a musician who soared to lofty heights in the rock realm retreating into a more introspective approach that may entice fans of Brian Eno and Harold Budd—particularly their indeterminate yet beautiful 1984 LP The Pearl, which murmurs ineffable koans in your ears, leaving dewdrops of watercolor solemnity on your memory bank. Tape Loops isn't quite in that echelon, but it's close.
Confession: Death Cab for Cutie's music always leaves me feeling ambivalent—although I do like that one kraut-rock-inspired jam, "I Will Possess Your Heart." They're emblematic of a certain strain of tastefully innocuous rock that's strikes me as MOR. Walla's 2008 solo debut full-length, Field Manual, followed in a similarly nice, conventional, confessional rock mode. However, Tape Loops is a departure from all that, and therefore a risk. Can you imagine a KeyArena's worth of DCFC fans venturing into the hinterlands of ambient and new age to zone out to Tape Loops? Liar, you cannot.
The opening "Kanta's Theme" sets the contemplative tone that Walla maintains for the album's 38 minutes: delicate, well-spaced piano notes glisten over icy drones suggestive of Walla's new home in Norway—although gorgeous closer "Flytoget" adds sparse guitar accents. Walla has tapped into a special vein of ambient music that evokes a free-floating melancholy without spilling over into bathos. For chill, long-attention-spanned listeners, it will possess their hearts.