Dayve Hawk, the man behind Memory Tapes, must have a penchant for cassette tapes. His previous material was released under the aliases Memory Cassette and Weird Tapes, a pair of confusingly alike band names. One thing is clear though: Hawk has supreme talent for producing songs that chillwave and glo-fi fans love. His two Memory Tapes albums, Seek Magic and Player Piano, are filled with the hazy, fuzzy sounds of the chillwave/glo-fi genres that bring back feelings of longing and nostalgia.
Seek Magic received much critical acclaim due to Hawk’s creative use of instruments–on “Bicycle,” Hawk sampled a bicycle pump to create a unique, unusual sound that contrasted nicely against the distant, far-away vocals on the track. Another song on the album, “Plain Material,” was my favorite. With a graceful backdrop of fuzzy guitar chords and lyrics like “It was such a beautiful dream / We heard the sound of her voice / Calling out high over the trees / And the clouds disappeared,” the song particularly captures a blissful, refreshing mood perfect for sunny days and grassy fields.
Player Piano was a more modest success. The album was simpler and more melodic than Seek Magic, making Player Piano a more accessible album for new listeners or mainstream fans eager to sample songs by Memory Tapes. The standout tracks for me were “Wait in the Dark,” “Today is Our Life,” and “Yes I Know”–all were much less chillwave/glo-fi than songs on Seek Magic but showcased Hawk’s capacity to experiment with different musical styles.
Memory Tapes played on Saturday, October 8, to a small crowd of Princeton students in Terrace F. Club. Body Language opened up the show first, pumping up the entire room with a mix of chillwave, funk, and disco. I especially loved how the band combined a wide variety of genres to recreate disco and house music in a completely novel way.
Drummer Ian Chang provided the thumping beats throughout the set while singer Anjelica Bess, armed with her soulful voice and glockenspiel, and DJs Grant Wheeler/Matt Young rounded out the vocals and hooks. The distinctiveness of Body Language showed through on Saturday night–the groovy, tropical beats complemented very well with the three vocalists. Bess in particular displayed excellent vocals. Standing right in front of her as she powered her way through songs from the debut album, Social Studies (out on October 18 but currently available for free listening on the NPR website), I could feel that her singing definitely set the mood for the night. Bess, Wheeler, and Young’s dancing during the set also contributed to the high-energy atmosphere. With the talents of Body Language fueling everyone up in the room, it was hard for anyone to not break out the dance moves.
After Body Language finished its last song, Memory Tapes came on stage. I came in with high expectations for Memory Tapes—Player Piano had been on repeat this past summer—and left Terrace slightly disappointed, especially after hearing an amazing performance from Body Language.
The fuzzed-out dance melodies, live drums, and synths of Memory Tapes overwhelmed Hawk’s vocals so that it was difficult to hear what he was singing. The blasting beats made the music easy to dance to, but they did not have the same feel and depth as Memory Tapes’ albums. Listening to Memory Tapes live felt too thin for my taste, especially when I had the two albums to compare against. I felt that the tracks were simply too repetitive, which was probably because Hawk was unable to recreate the details present on the records. While the dance-pop was upbeat and fun for a night out, I missed the complexity and rich production that were hallmarks of his physical releases. The performance felt more suited for a club than a gig. I guess I’ll be sticking with the albums from now on.