You have to sound like it matters. Whichever musical path you're treading, whether your forte is in making huge expansive records or sub-three minute pop songs, there needs to be, at the heart of it, a bridge of sorts by which we as consumers can connect with what's being produced. Which isn't to say that every record needs to be super personal; however even fun and carefree records should show a little bit of heart, some indication that this is all worthwhile. Something we can grab a hold of and relate to.
On the surface, the music that Dent May makes appears to be something we could quite happily embrace; clean, shiny, bold pop songs about both love and dealing with the unstoppable ageing process. The songs that make up his new record, Warm Blanket, are short, sweet and often unremarkable odes to these two things, but for all of the somewhat weighty sentiment that creates the narrative, there is the nagging feeling that they're not backed-up with quite enough conviction to drag us past his lackadaisical delivery.
Warm Blanket is his third album for the Paw Tracks label - started by Animal Collective and home to Aerial Pink, among others - which is somewhat surprising, given that his music is so steeped in the simplicity of straight-up indie pop. He certainly does have a way with a hook, however, and at its shining best Warm Blanket comes very close to being the musical equivalent of what its title professes to be. Sadly these moments are too few-and-far between for it to ever really be the case.
Despite these misgivings there is still a lot to like here, and the biggest frustration is actually the fact that you're left with the feeling that he's capable of delivering so much more that proves to be the biggest frustration. There is the brilliantly catchy slice of Ben Folds-ish pop on 'Born Too Late'; a piano-led strut that is both affecting in message and hip-swayingly danceable in its production. Elsewhere, 'Yazoo' is a gloriously pretty trip through Beach Boy harmonies and elegant strings, Dent crooning "If you need anything, let it be me." Then there is the heartfelt strut of 'Corner Piece', a stirring ballad-of-sorts that's aided by some delightful brass and 'la-la-la' backing vocals. However it's telling that these stand-out moments all come in the first half of the record. Charming, perfectly constructed pop songs keep coming throughout but the distance between them and us seems to grow with every passing track, and in the end these first half highlights only stand to reinforce just how formulaic much of the rest of Warm Blanket is.
Quite why this is the case is difficult to say. Perhaps it's because the whole thing simply feels slightly too complacent. May obviously has a wonderful talent when it comes to writing hook-laden pop songs and this record is a clear indication of that. The problem is that we already knew this - his past two albums have certainly proved that to be the case - and here he sounds completely in his comfort zone, which is never a particularly interesting place to be. For all of its endless display of talent it never feels like May is pushing himself, or even that he's particularly interested in doing so. There is an amiable and glowing exterior to Warm Blanket that does offers some occasional sustenance - just don't expect anything to really get your teeth in to.
6Thomas P. Johnson's Score