When he released “Seek Magic”, back in October 2009, Dayve Hawk couldn’t have been happier. Memory Tapes’ debut, a touchstone for the omnipresent chill-wave, received nothing but compliments and he didn’t hesitate to promise a sequel before the end of that year. But, due to circumstances, in the end it was another two years before “Player Piano” was released. Now we’ve heard it, we can only conclude that the delay has been due to factors beyond the artists’ control, factors that point to this time as the ideal moment to reinvent his style and which reaffirm Hawk’s known tendency towards constant artistic mutation, whether this is under his monikers Memory Cassette or Weird Tapes. We get the impression that for the release of “Player Piano”, Hawk wanted to let enough time go by to let hypnagogia fever die down a bit. Some of his comments on the subject are pretty explanatory. He says that where the first album “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.” A solid explanation of the implicit qualities of an effort that, a priori, sounds sharper and also less dreamy and naive.
In general terms, and save a few moments, the material on “Player Piano” isn’t as powerful as that of its predecessor. The impact is different, more distant. Compared to the acclaimed debut album, it doesn’t manage to bring out equally astonishing IDM sensations, nor does it wholly work as the eclectic but coherent record that made “Seek Magic” such a great work. Continuing with the metaphors of dreams and wakefulness, we could illustrate the difference with the following image: where the dreamy electronica of “Seek Magic” was stuck in the wee hours of the morning, on “Player Piano” it’s dawn, and the music gets out of bed, ready for a new day. It has washed its face but some of the key characteristics of dreaminess, like the enchantment and the wide eyes, remain for now.
In pursuit of commercial success, some might say, but that’s not it. There are still moments that flee from the obvious, like “Offers”, and the bucolic “Humming”. Hawk continues to paint special, different places with his songs, and he explains that he doesn’t “want to make a song that sounds like that song you heard on the radio; I want to make a song that sounds like that moment you heard the song on the radio”. His skill when it comes to covering the tunes with shiny varnish are still intact, and it’s good to see he challenged himself to create great pop singles (Motown, sixties girl groups and doo-wop are some of the influences, he has said in interviews). However, in the end there’s a certain lack of magic, intrigue and mystery which disappoints. Almost all the corners explored seem known, less remote, and gems like “Wait In The Dark”, “Sun Hits” and “Today Is Our Life”, more than hidden treasures you have to fight for to find, seem to be situated on common coordinates that are easily reachable.