Memory Tapes – Grace/Confusion [Album Review]

The summer of 2009, or the summer of “chillwave” as it were, was a fun, nostalgic trip for indie rock. Debuts from Neon Indian, Washed Out, and Toro Y Moi were the soundtrack to beach trip car rides and backyard parties across the country. Replete with hazy, drug-induced synths, slow-mo dance beats and submerged vocals, the chillwave sound dipped into synth-pop and dance rock while layering plenty of shoegaze sensibility on top for added dreamy effect. Needless to say, the sound worked very well. Arguably the man at the center of this scene was Dayve Hawk, a 30 year-old-dude from Jersey recording his own form of blissful dance music in his basement under a variety of aliases. Releases from projects Weird Tapes and Memory Cassette eventually culminated in Hawk’s Carpark Records debut Seek Magic in 2009 under the name Memory Tapes. The album was well received both critically and commercially, and it set the stage for a legitimate musical movement.

However, the chillwave sound quickly fell out of fashion, as more and more artists quickly copped the styles of projects like Memory Tapes, not unlike the early 90’s UK shoegazer movement that these artists took influence from. Hawk’s newest effort under the Memory Tapes name Grace/Confusion however, finally presents a way out of chillwave tag without losing the blurry production style he first made famous.

Taking a page out of fellow Carpark artist Cloud Nothings book, Hawk supposedly approached Grace from a completely different point of view. Initial reports on the album have thrown around the word “sprawling” quite generously, and to good effect. The album consists of just six songs, yet nearly all of them nudge past the five minute mark, with album centerpiece ‘Sheila’ stretching out to a healthy eight-and-a-half. Hawk reportedly described the recording process as a confusing chaotic experience that echoed the mindset he was in outside of music at the time. These songs reflect that confusion beautifully.

Opening track ‘Neighborhood Watch’ starts with a strummy, reverbed guitar and Hawk’s echoey vocals before a dizzying hi-hat and synth pattern breaks through during the chorus. After the three-minute mark however, the drums quickly pick up the pace, and a distorted, phlanger heavy guitar kicks in. This abrupt change quickly sets the scene for the nearly schizophrenic vibe of the album. Eight-minute epic ‘Safety’ rides a buoyant near-disco beat until about four minutes in, when the beat drops completely and tempo slows to nearly half speed, only to be replaced quickly by a four-on-the-floor post-punk groove. Album highlight ‘Sheila’ adds M83-esque arena rock drum fills and an epic pedal-heavy guitar solo to the extended middle section on top of a spacey synth.

Grace/Confusion is set to release December 4th on Carpark Records, stream it below:

– Dillon Riley