Dent May Warm Blanket

[Paw Tracks; 2013]

Styles: pop
Others: The Beach Boys, Animal Collective

If Dent May were to offer a class on writing melodies, I would definitely enroll. The songs on Warm Blanket — the third album by the Oxford, Mississippi native — are, above all else, showcases for Dent’s prodigious, seemingly academic understanding of the nuances that define an instantly ear-grabbing melodic line. Comparisons are often made between Dent’s work and the songs that Brian Wilson helmed as the creative force behind The Beach Boys’ ever-influential pop masterworks. I’ll be the first to admit that the Brian Wilson comparison is perhaps too often leveled in music-critical discourse these days, but Dent May’s work — especially in its melodic dimension — seems particularly worthy of the Wilsonian analogy: there’s a breathtaking elegance to many of the melodies on Warm Blanket that evokes the same sense of awe I felt when I first heard “God Only Knows.”

Examine the utter grace with which Dent’s opening notes in “Yazoo” rise and fall before achingly latching on to a high G as he sings the line “Please, if you need anything / Let it be me;” or: the soaring melodic trajectory of the line “Surfing on a wave that has no shore to crash upon” near the start of “Do I Cross Your Mind?” These small moments epitomize the seemingly effortless majesty that defines much of the melodic content of Warm Blanket. On a purely musical, non-lyrical level, these are some of the most indelible tunes that I’ve heard in a long time. And while Dent May’s words are mostly platitudinal expressions of heartache and late-summertime longing that don’t necessarily add much more depth to these songs, even lyrical mediocrity can’t diminish one’s utter engagement with the melodies themselves.

Indeed, many of the other aspects of Warm Blanket — from that unremarkable lyrical content to the instrumental arrangements — often pale in comparison to the sheer melodic force of these songs. There’s something rather workmanlike about much of this album, perhaps because Dent May recorded nearly all of the instrumentation by himself in an allegedly haunted St. Augustine, FL home; the arrangements are manifestly labored over and consistently finely polished, but occasionally things end up sounding slightly sterile, even mildly formulaic in the way that May taps into the same instrumental tropes of disco, funk, and rock on song after song. Still, there are certainly moments of unqualified success: the timbral juxtaposition of brass and synthesizer in “Corner Piece” ends up adding a wonderful texture to the accompaniment, while the comparatively stripped-down “Endlessly” paramounts Dent’s typically sublime melody in a way that the thick instrumentation of many of the other songs does not.

While I believe that Warm Blanket could certainly have benefited from more moments as focused and direct as that latter song, Dent’s arrangements and instrumental contributions throughout the album are largely passable. This isn’t a terribly inventive record; Dent definitely isn’t touching on the type of experimental mediation of pop melody that Animal Collective — friends of May and the founders of Paw Tracks, the label that has released all three of his solo albums — so often delves into. No, this is pure, unadulterated pop music, and while its individual musical elements sometimes don’t quite add up to the full potential inherent within Dent’s ever-stunning vocal melodies, there’s always something going on that’s guaranteed to endear this music to the listener. In the end, this record — much like its titular object — exists as something eminently enjoyable and thoroughly comforting, if slightly commonplace.

Links: Dent May - Paw Tracks

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