Dent May – Do Things

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Hearing that Dent May had ditched his ukulele, I was a little bit scared about his newest release for Paw Tracks, Do Things.  But, the more I listen to this album, the more I realized that it’s less about his instrument, and more about his voice; it’s still very affecting, which makes listening to the whole record just as enjoyable as his first.

It all starts off with a bouncy number, “Rent Money,” propelled forward by synthetic sounds, yet Dent’s croon is strong as we’ve heard it.  He’s got a memorable voice, but his control over that instrument is what makes his songs so special–here he sings about the trials of trying to earn a living, in a manner that only May can. “Fun” follows, with a similar focus of backing pieces, but this is perhaps my favorite performance of his on Do Things.  Each verse sees the rise and fall of the pitch in the vocals, which in an odd way reminds me of Stephin Merritt‘s distinctive voice.

By the time you get to the single, “Best Friend,” you might begin to find yourself a bit disappointed, as the songwriting begins to get a little to familiar.  It’s filled with hooks, just like the rest of the tracks that come before it, but there’s nothing extraordinary about the construction of the accompanying beats, leading Dent May down a path of pop redundancy. There’s traces of differentiation coming in and out of the record, but they don’t do enough to push the record beyond the stage of mediocrity.

“Find Out” opens with a slight guitar riff, but by the time vocals and percussion mix, it’s fading into the background to stay.  These are the sorts of things that you wish May would have messed with in the final mix of Do Things, adding something special to the formula that would give more emphasis to the tracks.  I mean, “Wedding Day” has a nice jagged guitar line cutting through it too, and I quite like the song, despite its rather mundane electronic sampling.  I wonder what would happen if he just turned that guitar up a little bit (you don’t always have to go to 11).  It would seem that what needs to happen is to get Dent some musicians who can join in the fun of his quirky songs.  They’re good, they’re enjoyable, but in the end they’re ultimately not too memorable.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say how much I adore Dent May and his songwriting, even with some of the knocks I’ve taken on Do Things.  I give him credit for stepping outside the comfortable realm, but perhaps a bit more time would have really benefited the record.  It’s fun and easily listenable, but does have a tendency to go into the background too easily…that’s not how we knew him on his first run.  Let’s chalk it up to a bit of the sophomore slump, and hope he gets back on track the next go round…based on these songs, he’s really not too far off.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/04-Best-Friend.mp3]

Download:Dent May – Best Friend [MP3]

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