It doesn’t get much better than this, people. Memory Tapes’ latest, Player Piano, is his best yet; a triumphant collection of electronically-enhanced, self-confessed girl-group-inspired pop songs, book-ended between two quaint little instrumentals. Although the lyrics throughout can and will invoke darker atmospheres of isolation and longing, the music rarely enters a particularly gloomy state, preferring to offer nostalgic trances reminiscent of the 80s. Songs are encouragingly vibrant; take the first major track, “Wait In The Dark.” The song begins with a propulsive drumbeat and soft synths, before breaking out into a beautiful harmony of dissonant electronics. Dayve Hawk’s vocals are on top form, overlapping with the multitude of synthesised layers to great effect.
Following this is “Today Is Our Life,” which opens softly with a tribal backing beat, until bursting into a wonderful indie anthem. It’s wonderful to see that on all of these tracks, Hawk adds excellent little touches; the guitar solos add much, as does an overall level of studio polish scarcely seen in the otherwise competent and much-adored Seek Magic. Whereas the songs on Memory Tapes’ previous release were good, some of the songs on Player Piano are awe-inspiring. Take the beautiful “Yes I Know,” where everything just comes together and works. It creates a great build-up, buffeted upon a regimented, military-styled drum fill. Most of the noises here must be made with a synthesiser, but there are instruments that sound almost like string arrangements and violins. It’s very much appreciated that such lush songs can exist in a primarily electronic solo effort.
The chillwave of the past has not been entirely abandoned, either. “Offers” literally offers a wonderful spell of breezy past-pop, the kind that you would imagine your parents to have listened to and cherished. However, the tinges of flute-y ambience and modicums of jazz make it distinctly modern; perfectly blending the past with the present. Let’s not forget that excellent second half, either; “Sunhits” is a jovial slice of guitar-and-drum pop that could easily receive radio-play, complimented by one of Memory Tapes’ most sing-along choruses. “Fell Thru Ice” is a beautifully folky guitar-led song that unfortunately doesn’t quite last long enough, but its immediate follow-up, “Fell Thru Ice II” makes up for this shortcoming as a slick instrumental that rises to lofty, fantastical heights whilst still managing to sound as glacial as the title would suggest.
A lot of praise has been lavished on this album, and with good reason. Almost any song here could be considered a highlight; there’s no slump in the second half, with the MGMT-sounding “Trance Sisters” rounding off the album’s core-songs nicely. On repeated sittings the depths of these songs emerge. The songs are so masterfully constructed and the mood throughout so consistent that the key complaint must be that it has to inevitably come to an end; a sure-fire sign that an album is doing something right.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
We talk with Israeli rockers Vaadat Charigim about some of their favorite records.
We talk with Yvonne Ambree and Jesse Barnes of Take Berlin about some of the records which influenced the recording of their debut EP, Lionize.
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