Memory Tapes - Grace/Confusion - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Memory Tapes - Grace/Confusion

by Daryl Worthington Rating:7 Release Date:2012-12-10

The reverby guitar and soft vocals which open Memory Tapes new album lure one into a sense of comfortable familiarity with his earlier work. As 'Neighbourhood Watch' progresses, however, something unexpected happens. After the second chorus, shuffling hi-hats and deep synth bass take over. This progresses into a soothing flute interlude, before the song launches into headbanging guitar and synth riff territory. This is eventually joined by righteous choral vocals, taking the song somewhere which wouldn't sound massively out of place on a Yes album.

Continuing a process begun on his second album, Player Piano, Grace/Confusion shows Memory Tapes (aka Dayve Hawk) breaking free from the shackles of the chillwave sound he was central to the development of. Most explicitly, the reverb and fuzz which saturated his early releases is now completely gone. Instead, we are presented with clean and tight pop music, exploring musical genres and song structures rather than rich textures. 'Thru the fields' breaks into a synthy disco groove for example, while throughout the album, the songs are built on shifting and often club-friendly beats, alongside lush and layered but crystal clear synth arrangements.

The key thing which remains from Hawk's previous work, through all his sophisticated production, is a pure pop core. The sweet vocal harmonies and warm organ at the start of 'Sheila' sound like an update of The Mamas & Papas for 21st century bedroom producers. On 'Safety', the bouncing synths and Hawk's sweet vocals sound somewhere between a 90s boyband and the sound track to The Breakfast Club.

However, like all the best pop music, the sweetness is contrasted with an underlying melancholy. (Think The Carpenters' 'Superstar' or Jan and Dean's 'Dead Man's Curve'.) The opening line of 'Safety', for instance: "There is a sound/ wearing me down// It's like the voice of a friend/ but it's not.". As with his previous work, there is a recurring theme of a sad, unfixed nostalgia. The sweet bubblegum sheen of the tracks is thus prevented from sounding cheesy, and instead comes across as a yearning for something naïve, innocent and lost.

Unfortunately, the cleanliness of this album can sometimes work against it. The smooth arrangements and mostly unobtrusive textures mean it could drift into wallpaper music, a pleasant background. This misses so much. The exquisite details put into each arrangement and track, as well as the eloquent ambiguity of the lyrics means that it needs to be listened to closely and attentively to discover the intricacies held within.

Another potential negative is that the sharp beat and stylistic changes of the opening track are continued throughout, to the point where they almost become predictable and occasionally seem contrived. The consequence being that the album comes across as slightly disjointed, sometimes jumping about a bit too much. It's not a problem when listening to tracks in isolation, but can grate when listening to the album end to end.

On the whole, Memory Tapes has proven with this album his ability to broaden his sound without losing the best elements of his song writing. The ambition with which he attempts to flesh out his music with new and interesting ideas is to be admired. And, as the temperature outside seems to drop further by the day, it's a nice, warm reminder of happier, sunnier times.

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