Elusive former Hail Social frontman Dayve Hawk has settled, it would seem, on his latest monicker: having operated as Weird Tapes and Memory Cassettes, he is now sticking to – in the wake of breathlessly well received debut album in 2009 – the Memory Tapes one-man brand.
As with a number of solo artists trading under an alias – Papercuts springing to mind most prominently – Hawk is a law unto himself, and exploits the relative anonymity of an alter ego by delving into nostalgic depths that cannot be verified either way; a shimmering veneer on layers of curiosity.
It is this mysterious quality that renders Memory Tapes such an intrigue – his chosen handle itself hinting at lost reminisces, perhaps even those of a stranger – and the same quality has woven itself into Player Piano’s fabric in the hope of matching its predecessor’s critical acclaim.
Following the cutesy intro of the aptly-titled Musicbox(in), Hawk sets about crafting his idiosyncrasies. Wait In The Dark, all chiming synth and wistful harmonies, marries dichotomous musical and lyrical themes – a sundered love elegy – before Today Is Our Life ploughs the same furrow, its upbeat liveliness at odds with the protagonist’s unplumbed hopes and fears.
Memory Tapes, however, is not simply a less lyrically trite Owl City, and Player Piano is able to stretch its indie-electro bonds to breaking point; a venture manifested best in gorgeous lead single Yes I Know, whose tender percussion, naive riff and timeless, reverberating production see it ascend the heights of the LP’s greatest moments.
It also rounds out an opening third with plenty to digest, and the momentum is not spurned: Offers’ adroit pop experimentation threatens to captivate – sounding like White Town‘s big break had it come in 2011 – before Humming marks Player Piano’s halfway point with avante garde tones and Sunhits reopens the door on chipper electro-pop (this time drifting, however, a little too close to Owl City territory).
Hawk’s restlessness accounts for such shifts in the album’s trajectory; on the one hand it’s enough to keep the listener on their toes, but on the other it becomes difficult to get a grasp on the man – which may be the entire point.
But Worries’ mnemonic-like constitution retains attention going into the closing stages – its slightly discordant organ hooking instantly – and it is a final furlong well worth its wait: Fell Thru Ice and Fell Thru Ice II see Hawk hit the nail on the head, the former matching Yes I Know’s forlorn beauty step-for-step before the latter soundtracks the experience with a fine sense of drama.
Closing duties are, perhaps unsurprisingly, subjected to a change of tack, Trance Sisters’ near-demented pseudo-techno seeing Memory Tapes cut loose the restrained routine in favour of sheer noise smithery.
Despite Musicbox(out)’s neat bookmarking of Player Piano’s pieces – a token gesture, perhaps – there is a sense that this is an album unsure of itself: Hawk flits between moods with such frequency as to both delight and confound an audience split between enjoyment of his variety and desperation for Hawk to repeat the feat of the LP’s finest moments.