After debuting with an album that showcased his ukulele skills and talent as a songwriter in the tradition of Paul Williams or Harry Nilsson, Dent May made two albums that showed off different sides of his musical personality. Do Things delved gently into various forms of dance music, while Warm Blanket was more subdued and almost a classic California piano ballad album. After a move to the state that inspired him so, May's fourth album, Across the Multiverse, seamlessly melds all the elements of his style and sound into something really nice.
Working mostly alone except for drummer Anton Hochheim, May follows through on all the promise of his previous albums to create a modern singer/songwriter classic. He knocks everything he tries out of the park, whether it's happily gloomy songs like "Hello Cruel World" that fully embrace the wistful-guy-behind-the-88s persona or slick disco-pop numbers that come off like the dancefloor hits the Carpenters never quite had. See the title track, an enchanting duet with Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos, for the best example. Elsewhere, May wraps his sweet and sassy melodies in satiny backing vocal harmonies, conjures up the early-'70s peacefully woolly edition of the Beach Boys, displays mastery of string arrangements, and basically proves to be something of a chamber pop whiz throughout.
The songs are all shot through with West Coast sunshine; even the most melancholy of them have warmth emanating from their centers. Partially, it's the lush arrangements that account for this, but really, May's winsome, winning vocals are the beating heart of the album. He's got a nice boy-next-door quality going on -- if the boy next door sounded like he passed his time singing duets with Muppets -- but he can also break a heart when he needs to. Tracks like "Take Me to Heaven" and "Don't Let Them" might have very shiny surfaces, but they have depth, too. The entire album has a surprising depth; even in its lightest moments -- like on the strutting "I'm Gonna Live Forever Until I'm Dead," which sounds like an outtake from The Point -- there's a sense that May is playing for real stakes, small as they are. The combination of frothy tunes and real feels is a deadly one, and May makes it work again and again.
His previous albums had most of the qualities that Across the Multiverse displays and they were perfectly fine. This time out, the best things are brought out in sharper focus and dressed up in finer clothing, and the record nearly achieves perfection. At the very least, it cements May's place in the long line of witty, wonderful songwriters and performers he so clearly loves and emulates. More records like this, and 30 years down the road people will be looking to him for sweet inspiration.