Album Review: Memory Tapes – Grace/Confusion

Memory Tapes, the recording project of Dayve Hawk, releases its third album, Grace/Confusion, today on Carpark Records. Hawk sharpens his skills even further on this album, effortlessly blending and moving between vastly divergent soundscapes, textures, moods and rhythms to create an album rich in breadth and depth. Grace/Confusion emerges triumphantly as one of the best albums of the year–a masterful work of art that showcases the best aspects of the music of our time.

Opener “Neighborhood Watch” serves as a microcosm of the album’s greatness, as Hawk takes a naturalistic sound sample through simple, wavering electric guitar, and transforms the mix into a slow-dance track with synth strings and Hawk delicately crooning, “‘I’ll watch you sleep.” Dark synth notes thud into the soundscape and a transitional interlude takes the track to a swelling mass of gritty synths. Hawk then transforms the melody and rhythm, reimagining them as a streamlined, clean mix of piercing synth notes. Impressive is Hawk’s ability to employ these kinds of dramatic shifts on each of the album’s six, sprawling tracks without being gimmicky, forced, or repetitive.

Each of the album’s tracks offers something memorable and fresh, making writing about its highlights nearly impossible. This difficulty is accentuated in the fact that not only each song produces surprising and addicting nuances, but each new shift does as well. One example: the bouncing guitar line and sweeping echoes of synths in “Thru The Field” that recalls New Order (unsurprisingly) before Hawk introduces a videogame-esque keyboard line and the track fades to the sound of static, synthetic rain. This particular section of the song impresses on a new level. Hawk doesn’t just move between textures and sounds, he merges and layers them. It’s as if two separate yet harmonious songs occur simultaneously, as Hawk carries us deeper into the layers of his songs. Another example lies in the staccato, distorted electric whines halfway through “Safety” laid over synth strings. Eventually, the whines fall away to reveal the barren track beneath, as though Hawk purposely reveals the careful layering to his audience.

The album’s longest track, “Sheila,” falls second to last and makes a persuasive case that Hawk sought deliberately to lead listeners to believe that an album this good simply couldn’t get better before shattering everything they believe about the world. “Sheila” begins as a dark dance track rooted in synth flourishes and slow grooves but  transcends this a bit before the five minute mark, introducing electric guitars and organic drum sounds. As you might guess, that doesn’t last for long before a high range synth melody dominates the mix. But it’s the simple piano chords and Hawk’s falsetto croon, which serve as the song’s refrain, that proves to be the most immediate and achingly beautiful.

Memory Tapes began as a bedroom pop project in a rural town, inadvertently stumbling into wide critical success with Hawk’s early tracks. However, consistently outstanding music such as this is no accident. Hawk is a genius, expertly wielding the electronic tools of our time to render music that is as unified and sublime as it is disparate and sprawling. Hawk has spoken about this delicate balance between allowing songs to shift dynamically while keeping them cohesive, commenting that it resulted in the title Grace/Confusion. My only confusion lies in how a collection of songs can so gracefully inspire so much pleasure for a listener like me.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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