When I first heard the music of Tape, it was like a breath of fresh air. Opera was a slab of super-subtle, slightly manipulated folk music that found its way into my heart quickly and my CD player even more often. Musically, Milieu is very similar to their debut album, and although it doesn't stray much from the path that the group laid down on their first disc, it still shows there is fertile room to explore.
As mentioned in my previous review, this trio makes use of an absolutely huge variety of instrumentation. Besides guitar, synths and computers, they make use of banjo, violin, horns, vibraphone, and all kinds of other things. Their overall sound is very nocturnal, with fragile melodies ever-so-slightly manipulated and pulled into a backdrop for a quiet night under the stars. Tracks still take their time in reaching a destination, but never stretch out so long as to become boring.
The disc opens with "Oak Player," a track that opens with a vibraphone melody that weaves through some gentle acoustic guitar and a layer of electronic fluttering and soft percussion. Like most of their music, it's not a track for the impatient, as it slowly pulls together more and more until there is a restrained moment of celebration at the end (replete with horns). "Sponge Chorus" makes even more use of electronic effects, as horns, keyboards, guitar, and loads of squiggly sounds all move along the floor of the ocean, only surfacing on occasion.
Although electronic filtering definitely plays a large part in the release, Milieu is still a disc that breaths with a very organic life. "Golden Twig" wheezes with harmonium, but feels downright tropical with what sounds like lapsteel and tons of other vibrant flourishes. It's easily one of the best tracks on the release, and probably one of the best that the group has ever done. The same goes for the album closer of "Switchboard Fog," a slowly-building track that makes great use of a very few piano flourishes and a steady rise on an accordian. Although a couple tracks work too similar of a theme ("Root Tattoo" and "Edisto"), this is another little gem of a release from a group that seems very content to not make a huge racket. Your new soundtrack for relaxing.