Don’t let anyone tell you that nothing is new anymore. Those who believe that are probably looking in all the wrong places. Forget rock n roll. The likes of contemporary super bands like Kings of Leon and U2 are the death knell of that. While the newly auto-tuned Black Eyed Peas and Katy Perry’s ‘California Gurls’, featuring Snoop Doog, has taken hip-hop into terrifyingly commercial domain of musical white wash for the masses.
Thankfully, beyond MTV and Viva ‘music’ channels there is still the internet. While YouTube and torrent downloading can be held responsible for the end of the mid-range career musician, at least the artists worthy of said title can still reach an audience, however small. Innovation, after all, is about overcoming adversity and it is people like Dayve Hawk (aka Memory Tapes) who already managed to overcome the shortcomings and capitalize on the advantages of the digital era with his 2009 debut Seek Magic.
Based in rural New Jersey with his wife and daughter, while running through band names faster than you can say ‘fibre optic cable’ –Hawk’s current alias is a combination of his previous projects Weird Tapes and Memory Cassette. Most recently pigeon holed with the ‘chill-wave’ trend, Hawk has established himself as a producer in his own right and a good one at that. Unwilling to limit himself to a single genre, or even one mode of expression, his anticipated second album Player Piano sees Memory Tapes travelling through the dream-like projection of Hawk’s eclectic inner world.
As a musician noted for his use of field recordings, it’s hard to tell what sound is an organic one –of foots steps, tambourines or maracas –and what is brilliantly simulated by what could even be a mellotron. Don’t let the synthetic nature of Memory Tapes’ approach to music fool you though because if dance music can appeal to our most base instincts, then Player Piano can achieve a near-spiritual engagement with sound.
In lowering the listener into a wormhole of unpretentious musical exploration, songs like ‘Fell Thru Ice’ float through a plethora of styles with ease. Opening with the downbeat solo of a guitar, before being layered with keyboards and Hawk’s distinctly effeminate vocals –lyrics take a back seat to harmony and rhythm. In search of the ideal melody to suit his musical expression, Hawk takes the familiar and reinvents it to make something entirely unique.
There’s the synth and bass of lead single ‘Yes I Know’, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a danceable version of the Twin Peaks theme, while the rest of the track listing similarly embraces a bizarre combination of the melancholy and the slightly sinister that pervades the whole album.
There’s even a cheery frolic through the appropriately titled ‘Sunhits’, while ‘Offers’ promotes a soulful groove over a tabla rhythm. As Memory Tapes seizes information saturation and transforms it into a loaded, yet cohesive event, Player Piano is testament to the fact that, while robbing artists of the potential for a comfortable living, the internet affords them the freedom to do their own thing, their own way.
(‘Player Piano’ is out July 5.)