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Music, Moments, and Memory Tapes

October 9, 2009

When I wrote in July that music reviewers should always strive to remove themselves from their writing, I should have known better. At the very least, I should have acknowledged that some album reviews have to be the exceptions that prove the rule, because some of them simply must be personal. In fact, my favorite review (and one of my favorite pieces of writing) of all time—Lester Bangs’ 1979 essay on Van Morrison’s classic Astral Weeks, released ten years earlier—is intensely personal and all the better for Bangs’ investment of self.

To convey my feelings about Seek Magic, the first full-length album from electronic musician Dayve Hawk under his Memory Tapes moniker (and one of my two or three favorite records of 2009), I have to put myself into the piece. I hope you don’t mind. If you do, Pitchfork has a great review you can read instead. You can also go to the last paragraph of this review if you want to skip over my self-indulgence and get right to the matter at hand.

I would wager that most dedicated music fans have experienced a few perfect combinations of music and moment in their lives. In other words, an already rare, unforgettable moment is enhanced by the music playing at the time. An example: I’m 23, driving in Wyoming with a great, lifelong friend. We’re nearing the end of a 30-day road trip we had discussed and planned for months. We drive around a bend and a startling 50-mile landscape opens up. I see countless rock formations large and small, locked in eternal eruption out of the sprawling flatness, all against a backdrop of mountains, still capped white in June. I’m living every season all at once.

Elvis Costello’s soaring, spacious cover of the Kinks song “Days” is playing on the stereo: “Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me.” A whooshing feeling of gratitude—for the blessings of friendship, music, land, and life itself—blows over me like a gale.

The moment would have been great on its own, but with the music, it became whole. An instant of unity, of oneness. A second or two with God’s hand on my shoulder.

For me, Seek Magic has quickly become and will remain one of those “life soundtracks,” but it hasn’t served as the underpinning of any great moments (at least not yet). I would argue, though, that there’s another kind of “perfect soundtrack” music. Some songs and albums seem destined to soundtrack our meaningful moments; others are better suited to soundtrack our most important memories. The music of Memory Tapes evokes specific, vivid, deeply meaningful memories for me, and it even adds layers of meaning to my present relationship with those times long past.

The details of these memories are unimportant for the purposes of this review. What is important is that I can’t imagine listening closely to this record and not feeling something big. This music evokes. I have to believe the chosen name of this project isn’t an accident—these songs truly are Memory Tapes.

So that sounds like a pretty heavy album. Kind of a drag, right? Well, no, it’s not at all, actually. Seek Magic could fill other spaces that call for music—dance music for a party, background music for work, etc.—in addition to carrying the heavy weight detailed above. There’s fun music that makes you move, and there’s deep music that makes you feel. You usually can’t have both in one album, but the miraculous Seek Magic is just that.

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