Dent May - Do Things
The calculated, campy pop of Dent May's latest release Do Things feels like a blissfully innocent summer punch, spiked with a strong dose of whiskey. Just when everything seems saccharine and spectacular, the undercurrent of sardonic philosophizing in this record hits with a heady intensity. Fabulously ironic in all he does, Dent May delivers a hard look at our generation and society hidden amidst hazy eletronic doo wop. Love, friendship, rent money and hometown blues, there's something universal about this album. Remember that time before another human being taught you what it was like to be ridiculed, embarrassed and mocked, and you simply lived life the way you liked? That innocent simplicity that sadly slipped out of all of our fingers far too long ago has resurfaced in the form of Dent May's latest record Do Things.
Though the record sounds fluffy and light, this is largely a sleight of hand, distracting the listener with juicy, tangy sound bytes that almost obscure the distinct philosophy contained within these crystalline pop songs. Look under the carefully created blanketing of synths and peer into the deeper concerns addressed in this album. The de facto doo wop fantasies & straight flush harmonies give this record a vintage charm. To call this record simply a good summer jam would be a grave underestimation. Perhaps one of the reasons I'm so frustrated with the genre called "pop" in the first place is its complete lack of strata to define the differing rungs upon this lengthy ladder of bubble gum sounds. I'll just go with the ladder metaphor then and say that Dent May is top rung pop. This isn't the popular pop music, I'd call it maybe intellectual pop or "intellectuapop" if I was into coining weird genre phrases. Pop has superseded association with a specific decade or period, and seems to persist in its simplest form as music that is just easy to listen to.
The flora and fauna of synth backdrops on this record certainly are easy to listen to, however this philosophizing pop wonderland Dent May has created use a good deal of the sound sensibilities of pop in this record with a touch of irony. The songs on this record don't necessarily sound 60s, 70s, or 80s, but are somehow a nod to the sound of each of those decades respectively. Like a scholar citing his sources, May draws on sensibilities from 60s soft rhythms, 70s weirdness and 80s compactness. By no means piecemeal, May steadily draws on past pop sounds to turn out his own weird, squiggly, delight-inducing pop.
We use the words campy and kitsch to identify elements in art that are purposefully borrowed from the past, elements that are overdone to make a point and that are saturated in saccharine to reveal something sour. Kitsch elements that are borrowed from the past are almost always used to say something pointed about the present. Dent May borrows freely from the past and dips his songs in sugar to reveal how jaded and supposedly "driven" his generation has become, and how foolish this is. The imperative to simply "Do Things" sounds like an underdeveloped thought and yet the fleshed out lyric "Do Things your own way" reveals an entirely different hand. This record is childish in its ability to focus on the innocent, and actual essential features of life. The lasting power of a friendship that uplifts both parties in 'Best Friend' or the struggle to have more purpose in life than paying the bills discussed in 'Rent Money' and dreaming of true love on album closer 'Wedding Day'. All these themes and more populate the mind of a child, paper the walls of growing up. But have we really outgrown them as twenty somethings? Essentially, no, and this record covers all the worry and dissatisfaction a twenty-something faces today.
Look around you, look at 'Girls', look at the DIY movement, Occupy Wall Street – our generation is unhappy. We're fed up, sick of the status quo of stagnant lifestyles we're offered by the existing world of baby boomers, determined not to settle into this same role because of mundane monstrosities like rent money. Dent May's call to action is delivered in a series of imperatives - the song titles of the record spell out a plan for life dealt in vague but perfectly formed clichés. Do things. Don't wait. Find out. Don't do the things your parents think you should, don't focus on college so much that you miss out on life. Don't settle down right away and work a desk job you hate. Don't do these things because you feel pressure from our society to enter into the adult world and become just as miserable as the people encouraging you to limit yourself. Why not do things your own way? Find a job that pays you enough to put a career on hold and just dabble in what you love.
Start your own blog, publication, studio, company - return to the simplicity of your childhood dreams. These probably contain the essence of what you now love and wish to pursue. Or if they don't, allow yourself the time to dream again, to reconnect with that innocent self you once were. Using the facade of 70s pop sounds, these ideas are discussed with the innocence of a child and not with the self-serving reflectiveness of adult life. "When you were young / Did you dream about anything? / Something's been lost along the way." Something has been lost, but with artists like Dent May reminding our culture how simple it can be to just let go and return to the important, simple aspects of this thing called life, maybe we can find the dreams we lost.