When you get right down to it, the best thing which can be said about the May Bees’ “candy-apple thrash” on Saint-Denis is that the Dutch band’s music hearkens back to the mid-‘80s garage aesthetic while maintaining a true sense of modern pop depth. This is garage pop in the vein of R.E.M., the Feelies and Guided by Voices, with a strong emphasis on hooks even when the main melody is periodically obscured by a wall of guitar and drum confusion.
“Chemical and Moisturized” brings to mind U2-styled vocals over a light, slow-moving structure of plucked guitar notes early on, hearkening back to the jangle-pop greats even as the band’s sense of style occasionally overwhelms the bare-bones hook. And “Played Attraction Played Appeal” sounds like a long-lost R.E.M. single, working off the perfect alt-pop template to create an excellent introduction to the May Bees’ sound. It is the best song on the album to showcase how solid the May Bees are as a band; all the parts are laid out in equal measure, and the chorus’s hook is the album’s strongest by far.
If there’s one potential roadblock, it is that Gregory Orange, the band’s leader, wants us to believe the album serves as an existential examination of our lives as we wander the world alone. But when he becomes overly philosophical the material flounders and his art-pop leanings obscure how good the music can be when he chooses to drop the ballast and let the songs stand on their own. Saint-Denis is definitely a mixed bag, but for those among us who appreciate the music the May Bees are reviving, there’s a great deal here worth exploring.