Memory Tapes, Player Piano

Lee Smith

By Lee Smith

on 07.05.11 in Reviews

Player Piano

Memory Tapes

Dayve Hawk’s second album as Memory Tapes inverts the well-worn adage of pop guys who become avant-garde over time, clarifying the homespun electronics of his debut into a glossier, song-based whole. But as fans of Memory Tapes’ debut have come to expect, there is plenty of sadness beneath the sheen. Hawk spins opaque narrative webs of love, loss and laziness that are more tangled than this record’s overwhelmingly sunny tones would imply.

Plenty of sadness beneath the sheen

“Wait In The Dark” is a case in point; its rattling tambourines and chirpy keys belie the lyrical dark mood, with Hawk impatiently lurking in the shadows and masochistically hoping for the song’s addressee to wake up and hurt him just a little more. “Today Is Our Life” is even more sonically upbeat, with its straight ahead, high-octane beat and chorus spiralling ever skyward, but Hawk still can’t help scratching the wounds of love lost, imploring that he “doesn’t want to scream, doesn’t want to remember.”

The warm grit that made his first album such a treat isn’t entirely gone: Delightfully fuzzed interludes like “Humming” and “Fell Through Ice” demonstrate Hawk’s formidable compositional skills to the full. But the range is wider. The song’s louche pop-soul coda could be a snarky touch in less emotionally honest hands, but you get the impression that Hawk’s seemingly ironic flourishes come from the heart, as if he’s making up for his morose lyrical melancholy by layering up as much optimistic bluster as he can summon. The result is, by turns, schizophrenic, confusing, contrary — and at its best, quietly wonderful.