Every so often I stumble upon an artist whose music allows me the ability to paint vivid pictures using my imagination. I close my eyes, and their music sweeps through my being, lifting me away to a flowing stream tucked into a quiet mountainside or hurtling me through space as I pass unknown planets, moons, and stars. Usually the more atmospheric the music, the more vivid the invoked dream-like state. It’s half meditation, half daydream, and 100% my own unique experience, binding me to the artist with almost family-like loyalty.
Dayve Hawk (aka Memory Tapes) is one of these artists. His music is the mix of electro/psych/pop rock originally associated with the chillwave genre, but his musical evolution over three albums and two EPs has shown that his is a musical force that refuses to be named. Ever evolving, pursuing change, adapting to trends, and experimenting with new instrumentation and recording techniques, Hawk has managed to maintain his unique sound in the electronic realm since 2008 — not a very easy thing to do considering the ever-changing nature of the genre — and his latest album, Grace/Confusion, is a wonderful example of an artist that continues to draw outside the lines.
One thing I have always liked about Hawk is that he doesn’t fit the mold of his peers. Here is a guy in his early-30s, living in rural NJ with two daughters and a wife, and his music doesn’t really sound like Toro Y Moi or Ariel Pink, does it? He has always been the outlier amongst the droves of younger chillwave acts, and this is what truly makes Memory Tapes special.
If I ever make a list of the top ten electronic albums, Hawk’s first album, Seek Magic, would be #3, and it came as a complete surprise to me while researching this review that Hawk’s second album, Player Piano, was criticized heavily as “bland, indie electro pop.” Some reviewers even said it was a proxy revival of Hawk’s old band, Hail Social, but critics be damned, I actually really enjoyed it. Maybe having never been a fan of Hail Social beforehand helped my case, but I found the record to be a very nice progression from Seek Magic. If anything, I felt like Hawk was getting more organic with Player Piano; his atmospheres pulsed less, he substituted electronic sounds with live instrumentation, and he explored different realms.
When Grace/Confusion was released, I wasn’t really prepared for the direction that Hawk would take next. Artists often say that their next album is going to sound completely different, but if you took all three of Hawk’s LPs and played them back to back for people that had never heard them, I would venture to guess that most people wouldn’t know the same artist released all three. Now, does he use most of the same gear and production tech for each album? Yeah. Does he make the same music using said tech? No.
Grace/Confusion is comprised of six songs, the shortest being 4:50 in length and the longest one clocking in at 8:32. The live instrumentation on this album, more than any other, is mixed into the background, and a more electric vibe has been built, with even the live instrumentation taking on a electric presence. Take for instance the song “Thru The Field.” It ends with a galloping guitar lead, which is obviously a guitar but mixed to sound very bright and tinny. This is pretty much a common occurrence all over the album; anywhere traditional instrumentation is used, it is used traditionally but mixed in a electro style, which really helps to add to the nuances of this record.
I feel like it really benefits an artist like Hawk to give himself time to build his tracks. When the jagged, hard-to-hide edges of a live instrument are replaced with a controllable electronic vibe, the artist is allowed more time to cultivate the openings, transitions, and endings that he wants without being limited by the instrument. That is something that Hawk has now mastered on his third LP. After all, one of the best parts of his music is listening to see just how he will come into the verses. What’s going to be his lead-in to the chorus? It’s an amazing thing to sit and listen to his ideas work themselves out, and Grace/Confusion is a celebration of this technique.
Overall, Grace/Confusion is a wonderful collection of songs from one of the more eclectic artist of his genre. At one moment you will feel like you’re at a roller disco with your sweetheart, and the next you could feel like you’re floating through space on a huge neon sea turtle with a giant dayglow boom box on his back. The imagery that Hawk has learned to produce using his music is a thing of beauty, and Grace/Confusion is a wonderful addition to this immensely talented artist’s discography.
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