With his fourth full-length, tunesmith Dent May finally settles into a persona well-suited to his particular brand of technicolor retro-pop, resulting in one of the best pop albums of 2017.
For his latest hook-laden exploration of pop’s sunnier end of the retro-spectrum, Dent May taps into his inner Todd Rundgren/Jeff Lynne/Harry Nilsson/et. al. to create a throwback collection of technicolor bursts of pure pop perfection. Opening track “Hello Cruel World” serves as a statement of purpose as well as proper scene-setter for what is to come on this, his fourth full-length, Across the Multiverse. “Hello cruel world, are you real or just a dream? / And will I ever find some meaning like them pretty folks on TV?” he sings before bidding farewell to a former flame: “So long my love, I’ve got to do this on my own / Submit myself to the unknown / I’m just a freak without a home.” Rather than being maudlin or navel-gazing, May’s approach is one better suited to the psychedelic supper club set, all casual swaying, gauzy instrumentation and soaring falsetto.
Where before May alternated between the vaudevillian and twee (The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele) and the synth-tinged (Warm Blanket) as if in search of his true musical persona, here he settles in perfectly from the start, sounding comfortably in control of the vibrant sonic palette he employs throughout. Rebuffing the less-is-more axiom in favor of pure pop maximalism, May builds towering monuments to the music he loves throughout, finding a firmly established base upon which to erect his shimmering versions of what Brian Wilson called his “teenaged symphonies to God". Indeed, this is music more in the vein of Wilson’s exploratory reimagining of the potential of pop more than half a century ago than anything else Dent has managed to date, despite the residual presence of synths and a handful of dance beats (particularly on the Frankie Cosmos’ guest-starring title track).
“Picture on a Screen” builds from an antiquated dial-up internet connection sample to pleasantly propulsive bit of low-key pop and finally into an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink orchestral explosion replete with horns, strings, a cascading synth line and pounding piano line. It’s a euphoric co-mingling of all the disparate parts of his musical persona coming together in one fully realized package. It’s a magnificent moment of personal triumph and quiet confidence, one well-earned given his compositional strength throughout and his willingness to go big in service to the song rather than simply because he can. In this, Across the Multiverse is more art than artifice.
May’s voice is more often than not reminiscent of Girls’ Christopher Owens (particularly on “Dream 4 Me” which could just as easily have been a lost track from the late, beloved band), all soft edges and soaring melodic lifts that eventually settle into a lower-range, full-throated tone lifted straight from a young Elvis Costello. “Take Me to Heaven” is a 21st century take on the Bee Gees with a falsetto chorus far more angelic than anything the Brothers Gibb managed behind Barry’s gratingly strident approach. But it’s not all “spot the reference” or derivative pop predicated on its predecessors. May is in and of himself a unique voice, a pop tunesmith of the highest order willing to follow his creative muse wherever it may lead (see “Face Down in the Gutter of Your Love” for one of the best examples of this).
Possessed of a healthy knowledge of pop’s past regarding its biggest sellers and greatest creative visionaries, May puts forth an unironic, lovingly-crafted collection of pure pop bliss that, were it not produced in an era over complete and total market oversaturation, would be destined to become a classic. With any luck, Across the Multiverse will find its audience. Whether it happens now or a half century on is another matter entirely. Regardless, Across the Multiverse is one of the best pop albums to have been released in 2017, a year in which a sunny, infectious distraction is a welcome relief from the darkness permeating our day-to-day as the world edges just that much closer to complete and total destruction at the hands of petulant man-children. If nothing else, “I’m Gonna Live Forever Until I’m Dead” will be the perfect dance anthem to put on at maximum volume as we collectively watch the world burn around us.