How often do we take what we’re listening to for granted? How many times do we put our ear buds in and tune out the world and give our lives a soundtrack? How often do we overlook what is going on in that music we use to drown out the rest of the world? What do we miss when we practice that type of music listening?
If you are playing Player Piano Memory Tapes, chances are you are missing a lot. In this latest iteration by Dayve Hawk – previously of Memory Cassette & Weird Tapes – the man behind the music has settled on a name and a sound. That sound is a sort of experimental, psychedelic electronic thing. There is heavy emphasis on the experimental.
This follow-up to 2009’s Seek Magic is a laboratory of electronic sound. And much like a laboratory, special care must be taken while observing what the scientists are up to. This album is worthy of close listening, because if you are not paying attention, you may miss something truly spectacular.
Player Piano is bookended by the simple and childlike Musicbox (in) and Musicbox (out) and breaks into an electropop ditty called “Wait in the Dark.” This track, as well as “Today Is Our Life” and “Sunhits” sound like typical radio-friendly pop singles on the surface, but Hawk’s dabbling into all things sonic adds a level of depth to each track. Even as I hum to these incredibly catchy songs, I pick up on something new that I hadn’t noticed before; I notice some sound that adds a stroke of minutiae, like an altered harpsichord in “Offers.”
So why do these sounds get missed? The mixing seems off on the album. Hawk’s thin vocals sometimes get lost in the music and his lyrics get overlooked. Much of the album feels like it is filtered and evened out. I find myself wanting more punch in tracks like “Trance Sisters,” but Memory Tapes seems to like to keep everything reined in and close to the vest.
Player Piano is a fascinating music experiment that is worth diving into, but the listener must sign a contract with themselves to commit their attention fully to the album. Anything less and you would be cheating yourself of the detail and attention that has been put into crafting their brand of electronic pop. I hope in the future Hawk continues to dedicate that kind of effort into his recording, but I also hope he becomes more assertive with his sound. Let us know who you are, Memory Tapes, we will listen.