Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele The Good Feeling Music of Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele

[Paw Tracks; 2009]

Rating: 2/5

Styles:  pop
Others: Jens Lekman

Being that Dent May first gained Animal Collective's attention last year and that Paw Tracks is partially supervised by members of the band, it's not entirely surprising that May's debut is being released on the label. But for a real explanation as to his understandably curious position as a new member of the Paw Tracks family, one may not need to examine any more extensively than the songs comprising Animal Collective’s two most recent albums.

Both Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavillion undeniably reveal a progressive deviation from the aural bouquets that largely defined Animal Collective's career prior to 2007, and this gradually increasing predilection towards straightforwardness may account for the fact that Paw Tracks, of all labels, released something as harmless and commonplace as The Good Feeling Music of Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele. Of course, I may be generalizing or overanalyzing, but it certainly provides a possible accounting for May’s newfound (somewhat awkward) place in the company of those who have contributed more to the experimental aesthetic (Black Dice, Excepter) for which the label has gained renown.

A Mississippi native, Dent May wears thick prescription glasses and parts his hair to the side, while his songs, if not predominantly biographical, relate a populist empathy. And maybe because of a certain stereotype projected upon those with Southern origins or maybe his unthreatening, mild-mannered appearance or maybe his generally unexceptionable lyrics (even “I’m an Alcoholic” is sung with tongue-in-cheek waggishness), Dent May strikes as a good old boy with a few playful, homespun ditties, much like a well-meaning friend whose unspectacularly original songs you listen to because, really, you’re just friends. In sum, Dent May and his magnificent ukulele (proper noun or not) are affable but, overall, distressingly ordinary.

While the omnipresence of May’s ukulele is surprisingly less dubious than one might expect, almost every song is bogged down by his sturdy, monotonous voice. He certainly doesn’t bolster his case by kicking off the record with “Welcome,” a salutational a cappella; perhaps there is some irony intended here by greeting the listener so flatly, but, even if that were the case, the song is no less annoying. The more pleasurable moments arrive when the instrumentation is thick and crowded, as in “Meet Me in the Garden,” with its lush indication of tropicalia influences, or the bouncing bass and sharp, tangy brass of “Oh Paris!” That is, the fuller compositions, though still providing nothing uniquely unprecedented, at least balance the tiresomeness of his voice.

The weightiest issue resulting from May’s debut is that same conundrum often encountered by the best of friends: accept wholeheartedly or point out the flaws? But as difficult as it may be to overlook the flaws on this record, May somewhat redeems himself with, heaven forbid, mere quaintness. Because even more than the overt rhyming, quotidian lyrical content, or unrelenting, simplistic catchiness of each song, the fact that The Good Feeling Music of Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele fails to provide at least one outstanding moment serves as the best reflection of the artistic philosophy here implemented: fundamentally unremarkable but altogether true blue, unembellished, steadfast, and even dependable, like that friend.

1. Welcome
2. Meet Me in the Garden
3. College Town Boy
4. Oh Paris!
5. Howard
6. Girls on the Square
7. You Can’t Force a Dance Party
8. God Loves You, Michael Chang
9. At the Academic Conference
10. 26 Miles (Santa Catalina)
11. I’m an Alcoholic
12. Love Song 2009

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