An early pioneer in the bedroom music, Davye Hawk (a.k.a. Memory Tapes) has been overshadowed by a crop of recent chillwave usurpers. Despite his best efforts to inject some unusual instrumentation into an ever-staling genre, Hawk has been stuck in neutral since 2009’s Seek Magic, notwithstanding his excellent, off-kilter remixes of Crystal Castles’ “Suffocation” and Yeasayer’s “Ambling Alp.” Grace/Confusion, Hawk’s third album in four years, is a benign collection of typically hazy dream pop that does nothing to steer him away from the forgettable course his last three releases have charted.
The situation is made all the more frustrating by the occasional bursts of innovation that show up in the middle of the album’s overly long tracks, lending Grace/Confusion a few promising moments of brilliance amid its monotonous sonic slog. Hawk is obsessed with cyclical patterns, and his overreliance on static percussion and squishy synths to carry the weight of his rather wan songwriting becomes strained by the five-minute mark of album opener “Follow Me.” That’s when his penchant for flooding his songs with starry but bland white noise becomes tiresome, and as the next five tracks play out in much the same fashion, one wonders whether he’s become the Kenny G of chillwave, phoning in track after track by playing the same shoegazing chord progressions while barely disguising his recycled presets.
The highlights are brief: Four minutes into “Safety” finds a liquidy, shimmering guitar solo reveling in its own messy distortion, while “Thru the Field” creatively employs samples of cheering kids over its New Order-inspired guitar riff. Unfortunately, the fun and inventive moments are scarce, and while the title Grace/Confusion implies both elegance and unpredictability, Hawk’s work is neither. Rather, it’s simply warmed-over easy listening as rendered by a lo-fi producer who, ironically enough, seems outdated and outmatched in a genre known for being both retro-obsessed and DIY.