Dent May makes his move permanent
Daniel O'Boyle | Thursday, August 31, 2017
On “90210,” the sixth track of Dent May’s “Across the Multiverse,” Dent May utters the least believable lyric on an album where the title track explores traversing space and time for love.
In the second verse of the track, May refers to himself as a “Mississippi boy.” It’s a lyric that’s difficult to reconcile oneself with after hearing five-and-a-half songs of his unmistakably California-sounding pop, but it’s true. May lived in Jackson, Mississippi until 2015, but his music contradicts his place of birth — his music is that of someone California born and bred, not a recent transplant. May released three albums before his relocation to the Golden State — and his subsequent release of his most recent album, “Across the Multiverse” — and each of them contains a strikingly similar California sound. As much as May is from Mississippi, he isn’t — he just has to be a California boy.
For one thing, he sounds almost identical to the voice that defined the California genre — the Beach Boys frontman, Brian Wilson.
Sounding like an iconic pop star, however, is certainly not a guarantee for great musical output. A voice may move records, but in terms of respect, similarity can only take you so far. Brian Wilson’s vocal range may have been incredible, but hitting more notes than other bands didn’t put him ahead of the competition. His creativity, his songwriting and his ability in arrangement put him both on top the charts and critics lists. May’s first three albums, “The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele,” “Do Things” and “Warm Blanket” each provided some enjoyable summer indie pop, but lacked the kind of creativity that keeps an entire album engaging. The individual tracks on them became forgettable or too derivative of past greats such as Wilson’s Beach Boys.
In “Across the Multiverse,” however, May finally delivers a whole album of inventive pop music that manages to remind listeners of classic ‘60s and ‘70s west-coast pop groups while still remaining refreshingly modern. Perhaps May’s move to California was necessary step he needed to take to strike the kind of balance he had long been looking for.
The album’s title track, in which Greta Kline — better known as Frankie Cosmos — joins May for a duet, is the clear standout. Kline’s unparallelled ability to sound at once infatuated and indifferent shines through, but it’s her catchy disco synth-line through the chorus that truly makes the track memorable. In an album where May often attempts to straddle the line between sad and danceable, the track aims entirely for the latter and pulls it off expertly. It sounds like it could have been a top 40 radio hit in a bygone era, but not completely. With its constant mix of old and new, if you didn’t know the release date prior to listening, you wouldn’t ever be quite sure when it was released.
Through the rest of the album, May’s songs are often delivered through a layer of irony. Throughout his album May keeps to a classic, highly effective rule in pop songwriting — sad lyrics over a happy melody. Twice, on the opening track, “Hello Cruel World,” and again on penultimate track “I’m Gonna Live Forever Until I’m Dead,” May uses catchy tunes to acknowledge his own mortality, while on “Picture on a Screen,” May plays with his retro sound by singing of a much more modern theme — a love he can only see over screens.
While vastly improved from his earlier work, the album isn’t without more forgettable moments. It may still serve best as background music to soundtrack a summer — though being released in the second half of August, there is little Summer left for “Across the Multiverse” to soundtrack. May might not have created the perfect California album for the 2010s — he certainly didn’t make a modern “Pet Sounds” — but what he did make is an incredibly refined pop record that is well worth a listen; and a far more genuine piece of west coast pop than a Mississippi native should have any business making.
Album: “Across the Multiverse”
Artist: Dent May
Best Tracks: “Across the Multiverse,” “Dream 4 Me,” “Goodbye Cruel World”
If you like: The Beach Boys, Ducktails, Frankie Cosmos
Out now on Carpark Records