The first thing one notices is the art. Alone, the covers are colorful and snazzy, but when viewed as a set, they teem with creativity and a wild, untamed abandon. Credit Brooklyn’s Caroline Teagle for the unified look of Tranquility Tapes, and her brother Franklin for the label. Together, they have amassed quite a body of work over the past five years. This year, they’ve cracked the 60-release barrier. A new set of instrumental tapes arrives on the heels of a vinyl release. That record, Full of Grace, features the label’s artistic director on vocals as part of the duo Imperial Topaz. It’s no surprise that she’s good at this too; on standout tracks “Juarez” and “Full of Grace”, her reverberated voice draws comparison to the classic 4AD sound.
Many Tranquility Tapes artists have previously appeared on our site, including Loud & Sad, Giant Claw, Adderall Canyonly and Motion Sickness of Time Travel. A few factors unite the majority of the roster: synthesized tones rule the roost and the overall mood is one of – you guessed it – tranquility. On Cask, a number of like-minded artists join to record a long, slow relaxation tape. One may be surprised to see the stature of the individual members: Alex Smalley (Pausal/Olan Mill), Simon Bainton (Pausal), Katie English (Isnaj Dui) and Chris Gowers (Katrina ESP). This is a humble release rather than a high-profile release, but it impresses due to its restrained nature. The artists don’t mind if one uses the tape as a sleep aid; in fact, they recommend it. Extra points go to the label for using the phrase “a closer listen” in the description!
Glass House‘s Keeping to the Void is a more active album, only a third the length of Cask. And yet, it still sounds like a Tranquility Tapes release. The synthesized tones are there, casting nets on both the ambient and the drone sides of the boat. Piano, strings and field recordings enrich these songs with diverse timbres. “Viral Grief” is particularly effective, ending in organ tones and breath, sounding just like its title. “Beneath the Bellows” rings with a suggestion of catacombs and buried secrets. “Dirters” even ends with a beat. The next time we encounter such a beat is on the 55-second “Shade”, from Bedroom‘s Shade and System, paired with processed pop samples reminiscent of bvdub. This is followed by the 2:22 “Iris”, a lovely segment of bells and loops. Then it’s back to the beats for the 1:55 “Marmalade”. An entire album of such tracks would have its own appeal, but the bulk of this work is dedicated to two longer compositions, “The Dream” and “Dream Cont.”, which hearken back to 1990s ambience in their sense of flow.
Concluding the quartet is Andreas Brandal‘s Hidden Rooms, which exposes the thin line between relaxation and menace in synthesized music. All it takes is a twist of the dial and the tones switch from soothing to dissonant, a trick that John Carpenter learned well. Tracks such as “Wormwood” include both, disorienting the listener like a co-ed wandering through a house that may or may not be empty. (“What’s that sound? Whew, it’s just the cat. Let’s see what’s in the fridge … oh my GOD!“) The atonal strings of “Brink of Infinity” bring the point home. Hearing this release, one wonders what other label releases might sound like with detuned instruments. It’s the only Tranquility Tapes release that isn’t tranquil, unless the word includes the relieved rowboat drifting down the river at the end of “Friday the 13th”. As fans of the film know, that tranquility didn’t last very long.
Where to start? If you’re new to the label, start with the art. Then start exploring. To quote Brandal’s title, think of these squares as hidden rooms, with sixty surprises behind the doors. (Richard Allen)