[25 June 2012]
If you listen to enough music, you’ll realize that certain albums convey certain atmospheres and settings. For example, Agalloch’s The Mantle is the best auditory representation of winter I’ve ever heard. Dent May’s newest release, Do Things, is also a fine example of this. With its dream-pop foundation, warm harmonies, and feel good vibe, it’s a nice album to welcome in summer (albeit a bit early). While it’s not memorable enough to deserve residency in your collection, it’s quite enjoyable while it lasts.
Sometimes credited as Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele, the Mississippi native cites Prince, Serge Gainsbourg, and Lee Hazlewood as vocal influences. During his high school years, he performed synth pop with the Rockwells, and after a brief stint at NYU’s film school, he formed a country-rock outfit, Cowboy Baloney’s Electric City. His debut solo album, The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele, earned him significant attention within the indie community. With Do Things, May mixes the beloved influences of 1960s California pop with DIY production. The end result is a superficial slice of musical sunshine that, unfortunately, doesn’t contain anything special enough to carry longevity.
The album starts off with the delightful “Rent Money”, which combines the optimistic harmonies of Phideaux’s “Rainboy” and the danceable funk of Bing Ji Ling. While the composition is relatively simple—he basically piles synths, guitars, and vocals over a drum track—it’s still pretty impressive that May performs everything himself. “Fun” is a bit more exciting and varied thanks to its more vibrant timbres, and “Tell Her” feels like a beginner’s take on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds with Gruff Rhys singing.
“Best Friends”, which has been released as a single, carries the same catchy color as most of the Flaming Lips’ records. May’s vocal range is especially impressive on “Don’t Wait”; his falsetto layers sound great. “Parents” is one of the more experimental tracks on Do Things, as May uses some odd effects and manipulation, and “Find Out” features a cascade of childlike sounds that combine into endearing melodies. The album closes with “Home Groan”, which is arguably the albums most direct and fully realized song. May sings about a common theme in the indie music industry: the nostalgia of home towns and the disapproval of new locations.
Although there is a lot to like on Do Things, there is one major flaw: it all sounds so much alike. Granted, May is a one-man band with few instruments and only so much ability to brings his ideas to fruition, but the fact still remains that there’s a level of sameness to it all, and May seems content to follow largely the same formula throughout the record. One could argue that this helps give Do Things heightened cohesion, but really, it’s just a lack of diversity, plain and simple.
Do Things is a pleasant enough experience while it plays, but it’s quite forgettable overall. Again, May accomplishes a lot by himself, but art is judged primarily on the end result, not the ambition and process behind its creation. He definitely has talent and a relatively unique style (even though comparisons can run rampant), and if he works hard at making sure each track offers something truly different, his next release will be something worth talking about.