Dayve Hawk's first two releases as Memory Tapes saw him rummaging through a farrago of childhood debris and adulthood anxieties. Broken toys and baby teeth lay scattered among empty appointment books and scuffed patent-leather dress shoes. On his third release, Grace/Confusion, the New Jersey producer refines Memory Tapes into a robust, tightly-wound clockwork that noses insistently forward into gaping mosaicked arenas.
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While both Seek Magic and Player Piano crafted their toybox misadventures within fairly conventional pop lengths, Grace/Confusion unfurls into expansive new spaces. The LP comprises just six tracks; only one falls short of the five-minute mark. Two sprawl out to the length of your average post-rock composition, but never once do any of these songs dawdle or blow empty air. Six-minute opener "Neighborhood Watch" sets the pace with unsettlingly sweet pop melodies that grow and bend with increasing adrenaline. "Safety", at just under eight minutes, grasps tightly to each second of its running time, using the space to claw to a build that's more soaring and memorable than anything that's ever come to life under the Memory Tapes moniker.
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Hawk has always been fond of playful, lo-fi sound bytes, often snapping from demonic analog squalls to synthetic children's choirs in an instant. Grace/Confusion furthers his penchant for textural contrast, pitting throbbing techno bass and modulated electric guitar against crepe paper arpeggios and airless synthetic bells. But this time, the dynamics feel less like an argument and more like a conversation. The more jarring moments of Hawk's previous albums are here smoothed to a minimum as Memory Tapes' many elements braid together into sweeping, organic forms.
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Sugar-frosted 80s pop still crunches against the odd strains of disco and rock on Memory Tapes' third and most ambitious release. The record's joyous bursts remain tinted with an overall melancholy; those who kept Hawk's previous work in their personal treasure chests won't find that the project's emotional core has strayed much. But this time, the machinery used to render that frenetic, expressive yearning takes flight. Grace/Confusion is a big, brave record, a high-reward risk that launches Memory Tapes well out of its sophomore slump into a latecomer's slot among the more engaging acts of the year.
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Grace/Confusion is out December 4 on Carpark Records.