In a recent Pitchfork interview, New Jersey dad Dayve Hawk explained his surplus of recording project names as an easy way to distinguish between the subtly shifting styles of his bedroom-produced music. The former Hail Social member started to release tracks and digital EPs to the Internet last year as the pensively dancey Weird Tapes, and then synthetically concocted that group's Frankenstein's Bride with Memory Cassette. Hawk's full-length debut, billed to the stylistic hybrid Memory Tapes, far exceeds the sweetness of those differently named roses. Seek Magic immediately grounds itself as a homebody's labor, with comfy murmuring crickets and barking dogs. The sound of the dance music that follows resembles suburban DFA jams--convicted grooves with blanketing warmth rather than brusque metropolitan distance. The artificial castrati effect that gave the Cassette tracks their femininity has been scrapped for a more direct vocal engagement, though Hawk still gives his naturally high voice plenty of gauzy diva turns. More notable are his compositions, which feature both visceral kicks and surprising restraint. Hits like the New Order-esque "Bicycle" and the club banging "Graphics" play coy with their BPM, organically finding moments of calm before building to kinetic crescendos. The muted disco club fantasy of "Green Knight" is oddly enhanced by the alien element of sampled sneaker squeaks. The attention to detail is uniformly remarkable.
It's unexpected that the best song on an album so committed to, and successful at, studious dance constructions should be the one that introduces a strain of earnest late-90s indie rock. "Plain Material"x has a strummy, grandiose quality that brings to mind the Flaming Lips' Soft Bulletin, or maybe the first Granddady record, but with a nimble techno sensibility that those bands never thought to integrate. The frantic synth tones that bust loose over those familiar guitars a little over a minute into the song are kind of astonishing. Lots of new bands are suddenly trafficking in haze, but it only works if there's real songcraft underneath. It can't just be some sleight of hand to conceal a lack of novel ideas. Seek Magic is for real. It's one of the best debuts of the year, in fact.