Dayve Hawk is not a man who seems particularly comfortable in the limelight. In fact, so attuned to the shadows does the brainchild behind Memory Tapes appear, you suspect one moment in the neon glare of fame would render below him a sweaty pool of anxiety as he gnaws and gnarls his way, rat-like, back into the sanctity of anonymity – a place where all good bedroom-bound producers prefer to reside in these prevailing times. Given this predisposition to invisibility, the follow up to Hawk’s blog-wooing 2009 debut, Seek Magic, throws a surprising curveball: his voice.
On “Today Is Our Life,” the third track on Memory Tapes’ sophomore effort Player Piano, Dayve Hawk, the sole force behind the project, sings, “I don’t wanna scream, I don’t wanna remember.” This line, in a way, encapsulates Player Piano as a whole. He won’t scream. He’ll let his guitar, which comes out of nowhere to deliver a solo worthy of a Pixies song, do the screaming for him.
If the role of a judge is inevitably sombre, then this wouldn’t be a mood misplaced in judging Memory Tapes’ new album by its cover. As a title, Player Piano gives us a sense of Victorian-cum-Edwardiana far removed from the vaguely modernist pastoralism of Dayve Hawk’s debut outing as Memory Tapes, Seek Magic. The mood of the séance, of the all-too-fleshy ghost in the machine (or vice versa), is played out in the sinister yet charming album art recalling the troubled sexuality of the medium as liminal locus of interpenetration: the vulnerable body, the orifice-issuing ectoplasm, the speaker as spurting speculum, the Succubesque presence of the fox spirit.
Taking the long view, Seek Magic strikes me as a great album made by someone who really doesn't care much for the format. It's understandable since Dayve Hawk's prior gig Hail Social released a couple of LPs of timely, danceable indie rock while perpetually hemmed in between positive notice (SPIN Band of the Day, a deal with Polyvinyl) and a legitimate breakthrough. I can't imagine being too enthusiastic for the obligations of the traditional album cycle after all of that.
For the product of a self-described socially awkward homebody, Memory Tapes' 2009 debut album, Seek Magic, sounded remarkably expansive and exploratory, bubbling its way through seemingly limitless sonic tangents and stylistic intersections to forge something at once fresh-feeling and immensely nostalgic. Like its predecessor, Player Piano was created in Dayve Hawk's New Jersey home studio, and it plows a similar if somewhat narrower musical swath: dreamy, texture-heavy electronic indie pop, dripping with reverb and lousy with synthesizers, commingled with elements of dance, rock, and new age that are in this case considerably toned down, if still discernible. This time, though, the visceral effect of the music more closely matches the insularity of its origins; these tracks feel simpler, smaller in scope, less adventurous, and more inward-focused.
Summer listening requires a soundtrack perfect for hazy nights, music to back the euphoria of perfect weather and cloudless skies. Memory Tapes‘ sophomore release, Player Piano, is that soundtrack. From start to finish, the album is rich with smooth danceable beats, proving this is in no way a sophomore slump. With just a touch of darkness, Player Piano is one dreamy, tripped-out ride.
A musical jacket potato: satisfying, but never amazing. Lou Thomas 2011 Memory Tapes’ Seek Magic was an excellent debut album. There was rave abetted by a bicycle pump (on, yes, Bicycle); drowsily amorous funk on Green Knight; and the calming chillwave ebb and flow of Run Out. Listeners could even forgive the fact that the man behind it, Dayve Hawk, spells his forename with a superfluous "y".