With cover art this good, one prays the music will be worthy of a review, and in this case, it absolutely is. Casino is the Swedish trio’s sixth album, and may be their best. Fourteen years is a long time for a band to stay together, and a longer time to stay relevant, but Tape has bucked the odds.
The only awkward note is the title: Casino is to the cover what Echo and the Bunnyman’s Porcupine was to the icy landscape of that album’s art: so disconnected that it prompts a double-take. At least this album contains a song called “Craps” (although it doesn’t sound like that game). A far better match is found in the opening track, “Seagulls”, whose woodwind tones, languid guitars and light, birdlike electronics yield the impression of a gull in flight. An even lighter tone is suggested by the soft handclaps, a sign that the trio is happy and relaxed. This personal touch is apparent throughout the album, which sounds as if it may have been recorded in a living room – so comfortable is its timbre.
Casino is an album for evenings. Its gentle tones seem like landings, the change into comfortable clothes at the sinking of the day. None of the music is rushed, yet neither is it slow; measured might be a better term. The band seems to be saying, “We’ve got all the time in the world. Let the worries of the day slip into the security of the night.” Less abstract and experimental than prior works, the new album comes across as confident and mature, the result of years of experience, of knowing what to include in the mix and what to throw away.
The piano lead of “Alioth” is particularly pleasing, reminiscent of the night sky. The title refers to the Big Dipper’s brightest star, one of the first to be seen at sunset and the recipient of a disproportionate amount of wishes. One begins to imagine each note as another star becoming visible to the naked eye, each cluster of notes as a constellation. Another star from Ursa Major is highlighted in “Merak” with twinkling tones sparkling in the background. A light heroic theme is apparent in the closing horns of “Goemon”, even before one learns that the title refers to a Japanese folk figure akin to Robin Hood. Tape has never been this emotional and direct; this new focus serves them well. An album by any other name would still sound as sweet. (Richard Allen)