Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Album Review: Player Piano - Memory Tapes

2009 was a significant year for me. I was starting my first year at university & i started to evolve into the beast i am now. I received an email in regards to a musician called Memory Tapes looking for students to create promo's for music from his album Seek Magic. I started to research into the album (as they gave the album to me for free in mp3 files) & was simply astounded at how captivating, beautiful, romantic, haunting & strong the music was. It had multiple layers, it grabbed your attention from the moment Swimming Field kicked in & become plus still is in my opinion one of my favorite albums of all time. Sad thing was i had an idea for a promo for Plain Material which would of been as cool as the music was, sadly though no one wanted to make it with me (audience feel free to cry if you must). I felt really saddened considering i wanted to repay the man Davye Hawk who created such a wonderful album by creating a promo which would of been the talk of music blogs for a couple of days because of how bonkers it was going to be. After i knew that i was unable to make the promo i decided to physical buy the CD at Rough Trade East (which has become a staple of my life). Without the release of that album i would not have found out about Rough Trade either, so i personally hold Memory Tapes close to my heart as this album started not only a new direction of music, lifestyle for me but also further my aspirations of being a musician/DJ.  

Player Piano opens & ends with an innocent sounding, sweet music box segue that help's establish the theme of the album. It feels like we are getting ready to enter a scope of playful, colourful universe yet it's juxtaposed with an almost sightly off kilter echoes. In this respect it could be a nod to past sounds established on Seek Magic & to alert the audience that now we are entering a new phrase in his career. The album opens with Wait In The Dark, a electronic, Motown girl band funky rhythm (similar in tone to Bicycle & Green Knight) but now boasting a mix between both drum programming & live drums. Hawk's lyrics juxtapose the delicious, bubblegum infused pop with lyrics surrounding a break down of a relationship. Recently Hawk came out & stated: the more sunny the material means his attitude is far worse. It's a love song that perfectly encapsulates a ghostly present revisiting his past feelings & not being able to physically express or touch the person who it's about. The sequel to Seek Magic feels almost like an album for the night. Whereas Seek Magic focused on electronic sounds & consistently sounded sunnier, Player Piano feels more darker, boasting darker subject matter.

I've always loved the contrast of Motown and other early pop records, where you sing an uplifting song about being broken hearted: the lyrics are how you feel, but the music implies hope. I usually end up working from the opposite perspective: the music is my better nature, and the lyrics are me shouting myself down with self-loathing and cynicism. You end up somewhere between a genuine smile you're trying to hold back, and a false smile you put on for a show.  (
Today is our Life continues the upbeatness established in the previous track but feels more like several faces of the same personality-of the protagonist we are following. From the slow jam inspired opening-lyrics about longing for a partner who are separated then suddenly switching into an upbeat, uplifting & inspired, multi layered workout-which will & has since it's release been causing Churchill The Dog, head induced nodding fits for me with every listen. The song slowly crescendos into a slower, more focused melancholic, electronica piece which perfectly segues into Yes I Know. Spawning one of the most memorable promos in recent years which is creepy & profoundly beautiful just like it's source material. Dealing with themes of isolation, pessimistic overtones of feeling socially awkward, lonely & creating a sense of longing to be better than the protagonist is somehow turned into a becoming strangely moving & expertly controlled. This song sums up the talent of Hawk perfectly. Using ominous sounds to turn darkness & dark thoughts into a colourful blue sky-full of character & life! Feeling depressed is a human emotion that everyone can feel and relate to, yet the handing of the material reverses the connotations and simply presents the song in a straightforward light, without ever feeling depressing! 

Now this was where i began to got excited, especially considering i had grown to love those previous tracks week's prior to it's release. Instantaneously when Offers began it continued from the quadtrilogy of strong material. The title and the lyrics feels like he is addressing & informing his listeners about the success of Seek Magic. The countless offers, attention he must have received feels almost like he has become socially awkward before of all the attention. Realistically when you look at it his just a regular guy then suddenly gets worldwide attention for his album. To anyone who got into this position it must have been & still is scary. Fans asking for your autograph, other artists calling you for collaborations, blogger's & journalists wanting to jump on the bandwagon etc. It's almost feels like the song is trying to argue that all these people were all the same. They didn't want to know him personally. All these thoughts are complex but he gets it spot on in the songwriting:

I could be wrong we could wait to tomorrow, when's there the money's spent there is nothing left of me. You carry on by a wave that just follows all the others that (reach out and are beneath me)
The brackets are because I'm not sure that line is correct. Yet the theme of the price of fame is beautifully captured into a pop jam. Moving on to Humming which i have to say on first listen really underwhelmed me. It felt like filler instantaneously. This might be because both albums up until this moment have had complete songs & no segue's or music interludes to break up the album. On initial listen i felt the first half of the track was almost boring but when the second half kicked in i was reminded by the genius of Hawk. Humming after 50 listens now feels like a necessary interlude to separate the 1st half from the 2nd. It's used to establish in my opinion that the moody, ominous nature of the first half is now progressing into different areas. I back this up by following Humming with two stellar upbeat tracks. 

Sunhits is for me the best song on this album! He seems to have taken aspects of Bicycle & Plain Material and conceived a new beast that reaches new levels of delicious & emotionally moving pop. Combining the incredible last section of Bicycle but compressing it into one memorable guitar riff. Add to that the electronic flourishes and themes of Plain Material make this just pure perfection for me. The song has a though-line with Offers as that song is about thinking the world he lives in is a fantasy, whereas with this track it's like his guardian angel screaming: Nothing's a dream! We can never wake up. It's almost like the angel is telling him that death equal's nothing! There is no afterlife so stop contemplating suicide and start living.

Worries is what most people might be considered a sleeper track. It combines various sounds and themes established throughout the album & combines them into a tight, Motown-esque, slowish beat. The song to me addresses the overall underlying spiritual nature of the second album. Heaven is Waiting i do not take this literally i find it more resentful & dishonest in the delivery. It's almost like he is sinking & the depression has taken over his thought's & something is trying to tell him: dudes seriously snap out of this. Maybe his inner conscious? 

Fell thru Ice is my second favorite song on this album. The minute i heard it i instantly thought of Prince. It's a beautiful melody, combining also a Phil Collins-esque beat & for me ranks up their with one of the best songs he has ever recorded. I was almost drawn to tears on first listen. Both because of it's beauty & because it sadly it's far too short! I imagined this to continue and evolve into some along the lines of Hendrix's Drifting but with the classic Hawk touches. I personally consider the follow on track Fell thru Ice 2 as a totally separate entity to the original. It feels more in tone with Swimming Field until it suddenly switches into a more slower paced version of Stop Talking. Although i still like both tracks in the context of the album but i strongly feel that the first Ice track could of been longer! In my opinion it felt like it was evolving into something but just come to a halt, maybe like his thought pattern when he wrote this on this subject? 

To conclude the album we have Trance Sisters. Some what of a sequel to Bicycle but doesn't reach the heights & classic level of that song. This does not mean this isn't a great song because it is! To me these might be linked by theme/recurring narrative  but are totally opposite to each other. This starts off romantically then switches almost nightmarish as he has losed his sister. The dream world begins to close up & deflate. Taking everything and everyone with it! 

On first listening i would of given this a 4 star because of the segues. Yet on the contrary with every listen you grow to love it all the more. Even with my reservations of selected tracks it's another classic album by Memory Tapes. The album benefit's from a more focused & mature sound by adding real instrumentation into the mix. The album feels more timeless in that respect. I still have a special place for the first album & think people who expected more of the same & to compare the two albums are bluntly put idiots! Memory Tapes is all about music & not the fame! When i saw him at XOYO (thanks to Something In Construction) he came out, introduced himself & just played. No controversial stage antics, no flamboyant clothes or attempt to enforce political viewpoints on his audience. He just played from the bottom of his heart & the audience loved the experience because of it. 

The introduction of a third member (a bassist) to the live group works especially well. The music sounds even better live! Although it was like the old show with five new songs. Personally i would have preferred to see the new album played live in it's entirely. It was a stunning show-especially considering i missed him when he performed last year. He is a talented guitarist & his live version of Yes I Know is a totally different beast. He should consider releasing some live versions of this material as it works so much better. Its an album & a band which will still be listened to for years to come. He has his own style and isn't like say Neon Indian who hold all their influences on their shoulders (i still like them though). 

Player Piano has a theme & run's with it. It's a focused, ambitious & memorable experience. If anything, this album will create a bigger audience for his work & i wish him all the best with his music. Davye Hawk stated that: 

Seek Magic was about a sort of romantic vision of the dreamer, this record is the moment you realize that the dream is separating you from your bed. (
The album is special & deserves a full five star for it's effort's. I'm really excited considering a new album is already on the way & start's recording this September. It's supposedly more psychedelic, spacey kind of rock. Just shows that he is not only a genius but was not a passing phase like the fake subgenre Chillwave coined by various bloggers.

***** / ***** 

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