No one ever wants to admit that summer's totally over, but it's even tougher this year considering how fun it all was-- seems like every other day, an evocatively named band would come about and contribute to this glo-fi/dreambeat/chillwave thing that was perfect for those unbearably humid August nights rife with possibility, imagining an alternate universe where the narcotic of choice in danceclubs were Galaxie 500 and Saint Etienne records.
More than a few of these singles came from Philadelphia's Dayve Hawk in the guise of either Memory Cassette, Weird Tapes, or Memory Tapes. To this point, he'd served as something of a microcosm for this sound, which has created intriguingly hazy, wistful but beat-informed one-offs and EPs, but nothing weighty enough to get it past "something we did that one summer," as if it were a road trip or ill-fated romance recalled years later. That was before Seek Magic, a record of achingly gorgeous dance-pop that captures both the joy of nostalgia and the melancholic sense that we're grasping for good times increasingly out of reach.
Initially, Seek Magic's power derives from an intensely personalized ability to unlock hidden chambers in our memory banks. The half-submerged guitars that introduce "Swimming Field" suggest this is as a soundtrack for a restless evening, but between its F-G chord progression and aqueous thumb-piano and panflute synths, I'm reminded of scorching July days vibing out to Wilco's A Ghost Is Born. Instrumental breaks "Pink Stones" and "Run Out" recall the unconventional beauty of Apehx Twin's Richard D. James Album. "Green Knight" smacks of Police's "Wrapped Around Your Finger" in its verse and any number of mid-80s light funk with its guitar licks, the sneaker squeak in the instrumental break is one of the most evocative found sounds I've heard in a while.
Seek Magic is something of an inhabitable universe that proves there's far more to Hawk's sound than a way with reverb and passing familiarity with dance loops. The rubber-smacks-road beat of "Bicycle" would be content to mirror its titular vehicle, but nearly every minute packs some sort of detailed compositional surprise: the widescreen breakthrough where Hawk's androgynous vocals shake lo-fi two minutes in, the bass breakdown that soon rights itself into the second half's backbone, and the choral coda that lays a euphoric vocal sigh over wave-running New Order guitars. By comparison, "Plain Material" is streamlined, but not by much-- the way Hawk's voice hits the fuzzed-out guitar chords, you might think this was an unearthed Flaming Lips track, and at first, it sounds like the first time on Seek Magic that he'll adhere to a standard verse-chorus structure. It does, but only after a drum beat cribbed straight from Organized Noize turns in a bridge of teen screams imported from In Ghost Colours' nastier breakdowns.
And yet in Seek Magic's centerpieces, you sense a nocturnal unease usually attributed to more spare albums. "Stop Talking" could've been content to ride out its gummy bass riff to infinity, but it morphs through so many phases in its seven minutes that the half-time post-rock finale doesn't feel tacked-on. On the following song, "Graphics", Hawk offers an unnervingly lonely sentiment-- "I don't even recognize the sound of your voice, the feel of your touch, you could be alone even though I'm here by your side." Lyrics are mere suggestions through most of Seek Magic, but Hawk lays out an "I can't go on, I'll go on" vibe throughout. One second, he sighs "this is the last time" and immediately thereafter, "one more time, baby, one more time." It's a sentiment that's underpinned great works of art from Daft Punk ("One More Time" natch), F. Scott Fitzgerald (This Side of Paradise), Kanye West ("Why can't life always be this easy?"), and um, Old Milwaukee-- the times where you think "it doesn't get any better than this," and it's simultaneously the happiest and saddest thing you can say.
— Ian Cohen, September 30, 2009