MayMay - And So I Place You In The Setting Sun
Sometimes it's worth sticking it out with the underdog. Earlier this year, songwriter Laurel Simmons put herself on the map with her self-titled debut EP as MayMay, an unassumingly pretty collection of acoustic folk tunes. The MayMay EP wasn't poised to make much of an impact or blow any minds, but it made up for what it lacked in ambition and originality with pure beauty and charm. And even if it wasn't a perfect or consistent set of songs, it showcased Simmons' potential to be a really interesting songwriter and to someday record something worth getting excited about.
Coming a matter of months after that EP, it would seem unlikely that And So I Place You In The Setting Sun, MayMay's first full-length, would be that something. A couple of months doesn't leave a lot of time for artistic growth, and it's usually the case with EP/album couples that they share a certain style and vision. Accordingly, this album would be an extended version of the blueprint laid out on the MayMay EP, predictably dragging out the same appeals and drawbacks over the course of twice as much time, perhaps with minor variations to the theme.
Which is why it comes as such a surprise that And So I Place You In The Setting Sun so fully fulfills the promise and expands on the sound of MayMay's earlier work. In fact, the musicianship here sounds years removed from the project's previous release. The upgrade is apparent from the very beginning of 'Setting Sun,' a dreamy, evocative track that exchanges homely acoustic guitar for a lush soundscape, rhythmic scarcity for an anchoring beat, and obscured vocals for bright, crystal clear singing. The move into hi-fi also more clearly showcases Simmons' songwriting talent, as well as her idiosyncrasies. The melodic turns on 'Stories We Lived By' heavily recall the more folksy moments of the MayMay EP, but the clear upgrade makes it play more like a summation of MayMay's identity than a rehash of old ideas. Elsewhere, new instrumental elements - bright electric guitars, atmospheric keyboards, grand pianos, a fuller and richer low-end - cast Simmons' work in new light without ever losing sight of or distracting from her distinctive songwriting voice.
Whereas Simmons' previous work merely seemed to aspire to be the next in a line of woodsy indie folk hits like Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, the music on The Setting Sun can actually hold its own against the best of those acts. In fact, the atmospheric harmonies on 'Setting Sun' or 'In The Fields' could easily be mistaken for a female-fronted Fleet Foxes to a casual listener, which is more of a testament to how impressive MayMay's sound is than a slight on her style. But even better is the way that The Setting Sun moves past MayMay's original connotations into new territory. From the very beginning, the more fleshed out sound here recalls dreamy pop music as much as it does the folkier side of indie, and some of the songs on here bring to mind some unexpected reference points. 'Lines To Water' and 'In The Fields,' for example, garnished with slide guitar and focused on a more slow-rock style, might catch Mazzy Star comparisons in the same way the latest Memoryhouse release did. Piano ballad 'Winter Air' has some spacey, atmospheric guitar noise around it that wouldn't sound out of place on a Beach House record. And the beautiful 'Undertow,' probably the best song on the record, trades in the rootsy vibes for a more wide-eyed, metropolitan feel that snags MayMay their best bid for a indie pop hit to date.
Only one song, 'If It Remains Light,' is held over from the MayMay EP, and the version found here is a heavily refurbished update of the tune that closed that release. Originally a meandering, lo-fi field recording, 'If It Remains Light' was a highlight from that record because it felt the most overtly naturalistic in a way that enticed the listener into its atmosphere. Here, it has a bit of a glossier sheen, but it's also furnished with more sounds that lend it a sense of direction and give it's climax more impact. And that's the way And So I Place You In The Setting Sun is. Even if MayMay's earlier material had a certain homespun charm that differentiates it from this release, the changes here are still overwhelmingly for the better. Whereas Laurel Simmons' music may have been previously worth a listen for fans of the indie folk style she played in, this album offers something that a far larger audience will find worthwhile.