The trajectory of David Wenngren’s career as Library Tapes has been a gradual process of coloring in a grayscale, of unearthing a scratched and faded black and white photograph and penciling in shades and hues as time goes on. The Swedish artist has worn many collaboratives hats over the years, from the haunted minimalism of Le Lendermain, Murralin Lane and Xeltrei to the high-cresting soundscapes of collaborations with Christopher Bissonnette and Kane Ikin and his work as Forestflies. Still, it’s Library Tapes where his progression as a composer most clearly shines through, moving from the stark, eerie creaks and groans of Alone In The Bright Lights Of A Shattered Life all the way through to the polished, fanciful modern classical flourishes of later albums such as A Summer Beneath The Trees and Sun Peeking Through. The Library Tapes project is a darkened, black-windowed room, filled with whirling gears and tarnished, rusted machinery, where someone has been incrementally opening a door over the years to let slivers of golden light within, stirring the dustmotes to dance. It’s like watching instruments age in reverse, ironing out the kinks until they sing purely once more.
Sketches, Outtakes & Rarities reflects this shift towards a slightly sunnier disposition. Whereas the previous Library Tapes B-sides collection, simply titled Sketches, was awash in the simple minor-chord piano runs and burbling field recordings that typified Wenngren’s work of those days, this new collection represents a broader range of interest. “A Blurry Gloom” shivers not just with ominous piano, but gentle flights of skyward bells, while “An Accidental View” and “Sleep Spindle” hum gracefully along with pattering hints of thumb piano. There are plenty of the trademark Library Tapes piano ballads here, as well, such as the static-laced “Medan linden tog Iljudet Ifran oss”, the notes hushed in a patina of dust like ghosts set adrift in a forgotten attic. This collection, brief like most of Wenngren’s Library Tapes releases, is what we’ve come to expect from him in the best way possible: beautiful, nostalgic, and vaguely unsettling in equal measure. These outtakes easily stand up next to the best of his album tracks, and then some.
And speaking of ghosts, Les Revenants lingers very much in the pattern of where Wenngren has been headed recently with his eponymous work. Two extended guitar and synth drones unfurl into gently louder and more unnerving waves of noise, never languishing too long for interest to wane or even waver. The dirge of the first section melts into nuanced and understated feedback in its final minutes, a pale hand leading us through darkness and then slipping away across the distance without a word, leaving one lost in a strange and foreign landscape. “Part Two” is mellower by degrees; peppered with bits of static flutter and 80s Cronenberg-score synths, it’s the aftermath of the tension of the album’s first half, at least until the terrifyingly harsh white-noise kicks in halfway through. Soon, we settle back to earth again, rejuvenated. This is one of the most purely drone of Wenngren’s solo albums, but also the most melodically enjoyable. It bears a staggering consistency.
As always, Wenngren’s solo ventures stand as a nice and refreshing contrast to the carefully-woven finery of his Library Tapes work. Like all talented artists, he’ll surely continue to find exciting ways to keep subtly shifting and furthering his sound, and hopefully we’ll be there to listen in. (Zachary Corsa)