Young fogey Dent May isn’t exactly screaming at the gates of hell while swooning groupies pump syringes into his arm. Instead, his music is a positive invocation to grab a pipe, some slippers, and pull a blanket over your legs as you lull back and forth in your favorite rocking chair. An unlikely addition to Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks roster, May’s songs are humorous, unabashedly retro and likely to grate on repeat listens.
After a mercifully brief welcoming song, May begins with the summery “Meet Me in the Garden.” His vocals are reminiscent of Edwin Collins back in the early days of Orange Juice, and “Meet Me in the Garden” gives May a chance to show off his impressive falsetto. It’s a gentle and rustily antiquated love song that thankfully lacks the forced humor of May’s subsequent efforts, such as the preceding “College Town Boy.”
“College town boy, how does it feel to be nothing? I wouldn’t know,” sings May. The musical backing is perfect pastiche, but that’s all it is: a replication of music from a bygone era. Tin Pan Alley pop, barbershop harmonies and touches of lounge music pervade throughout. It’s very tasteful, but May never transcends his influences and takes his audience to a place we haven’t been countless times before. I’m reminded of the Divine Comedy, a group with a similar affinity for affably recreating the past in an inoffensive, humorous and mostly unmemorable way.
May’s perma-reliance on strumming his ukulele, an instrument that every floppy-fringed wannabe from Brooklyn to Brussels has picked up over the last few years, is somewhat unfortunate. I don’t doubt his passion for the instrument, but given his geek-chic look and hipster credentials, there are going to be a few people questioning his art. Despite these niggling doubts, he is clearly a talented musician and arranger. The oom-pah feeling conjured up in “Oh Paris!” is enjoyable for one or two plays, even if the lyrical content descends into cliché.
Other highlights include the relatively straightforward “Girls on the Square,” which again proves that May can produce compelling material when he resists the urge to drop a pithy joke every few lines. Unfortunately this is followed by the irritating “You Can’t Force a Dance Party,” which contains more of his cringe-worthy “wacky” humor. The record often feels like a battle between May’s jokey impulses and his ability to write heartfelt love songs. Unfortunately the former wins out more than the latter.
The Good Feeling Music Of… is good for a few plays and might raise a few smiles along the way. If May could find it within himself to write more songs mirroring the wonderfully downbeat “I’m an Alcoholic” or the genial Belle & Sebastian-esque “Love Song 2009” then he might be onto something. Someone needs to gently remove the ukulele from his hands and temper his quirky instincts, because he’s a reasonably talented arranger and performer who just sounds like he needs a little guidance.