Album Review: Memory Tapes - 'Player Piano'

New Jersey chillwaver needs to can the cleverness and let his pop soul slip the chains of esoterica

Album Review: Memory Tapes - 'Player Piano'

Minimalism. The most understated and intricate of the musical arts? Or something people do because they’re too poor or lazy to record it properly? An eternal argument, but you could never accuse Memory Tapes – aka chillwave pioneer and the feyest singer in all Noo Joysey, Dayve ‘Unnecessary Y’ Hawke – of laziness. If this collection of no-fi synth hooks and curios achieves anything it’s an exuberance befitting mainstream pop, in direct contrast to the reedy sound of the thing.

The homemade aesthetic of ‘Player Piano’, you assume, was born of frugal necessity, but Hawke uses this as an excuse to commit the usual minimalist crime of padding out his second album with experimental crankiness. So the record is bookended by two chopstick chimes called ‘Musicbox(in)’ and ‘Musicbox(out)’, ‘Humming’ is two and a half minutes of Shaolin nuns hitting bags of drugged bees, while the sprawling ‘Worries’ buries its melodic pleasures beneath Casio voodoo bongos and ‘haunted’ (ie, a bit crap-sounding) organ. And ‘Fell Thru Ice II’ is a luminous synth-gaze pop wonder.

The result is a record that sounds like it really wants to be a cracking pop album but can’t bring itself to shake off the chunky sweater of esoteric credibility. Which is a shame because elsewhere, Memory Tapes oozes the crossover charm of Broken Bells or The Postal Service. The infectious ‘Sunhits’ revisits the New Order beats of 2009 debut album ‘Seek Magic’, and ‘Player Piano’ finally opens both barrels on ‘Trance Sisters’, a Technicolor afrobeat banger with a finale that’s as frantic as Joss Stone in a sack. There’s greatness here, but too often shadowed by obliqueness. Admit it, Dave, you want to be the Scissor Sisters. There, feels better, right?

Mark Beaumont

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