Thursday, August 23, 2007


Review: Singularity be Mae

Inevitably, delays plague "products that I want." Sometimes it's a simple matter of a few days, like a store not having the Game Boy Color in stock yet; sometimes it's an as-yet infinite delay like the case of Mother 3 coming out in America. Singularity had a relatively reasonable delay of a couple of months from the first "announced" release date of June 2007. Truthfully, it's almost good that it was delayed like that, because otherwise I would have had to speculate as to the music's quality while I was in France rather than listen to it as it came out.

If you're not familiar with my feelings toward Mae, let me preface this review by saying that The Everglow is probably my favorite album ever. It's hard to say why. Musically, it's nearly flawless but lacks the sterility that a technically superior performance often sadly carries with it. There are heartfelt emotions, and the total-album organization and presentation is incredible. I don't know of a single other collection of songs, save possibly Green Day's American Idiot, that just works as an album as well as The Everglow does. Even better, Mae isn't politically preachy!

Critically, Mae has done all right. Popular opinion was pretty much uniform for their first album, Destination: Beautiful. A solid indie rock album, though perhaps not brilliant; well-crafted songs even though the production fidelity was a little shaky at times; nothing revolutionary but very positive and enjoyable all the same. The Everglow had more contrast in opinion, ranging from people who feel the same way as I do about it to those who condemn it as "Disney rock." Those people are probably the same ones who think that something that is easy to understand can't possibly have artistic value, that something dark and disturbed is automatically more genuinely emotional than one that dares to be happy or optimistic.

Then what of Singularity? Nobody really seems to know, I don't think. People are ambivalent to the point of not posting reviews of the album. It's no The Everglow, but I wasn't realistically expecting it to be. Nor did it really need to be, because doing that same thing again would be redundant at best and a complete cop-out at worst. The one thing that's sure is that it takes a completely different approach than either of the previous albums. Asking which of the two Singularity is more similar to is sort of like asking if angel food cake is more similar to lasagna or caesar salad. They're all in the vague general category of "food," and there are a lot of good things about all of them, but drawing similarities just doesn't make sense.

I think the most obvious comment to make about the new album is a stylistic one: everything seems harder, faster, louder on Singularity. Instead of comparisons to emo bands, the more apt comparison is to post-punk "alternative"; Motion City Soundtrack immediately springs to mind as a stylistic similarity; Something Corporate and maybe even Guster are audible in parts. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. The downside of this is that everything that Mae delicately, beautifully constructed for The Everlow is pretty much gone. A critique of The Everglow said, probably disparagingly, that Mae won't do anything that a music theory class wouldn't approve of. And you know what? All that music theory made their music sound really good. Now you have chord progressions, transitions, and instrumentations that sound a lot more dissonant in places. It's not inherently bad, but from time to time, I caught myself wincing and wondering what the rationale could possibly be for putting in that minor sixth.

A far more serious flaw is Mae's possible "lack of new ideas." I'm used to lyrical mastery form Mae, willing to forgive them if they slip into mere excellence. Contrast "when the lights first came upon us/and we saw The Everglow./And the moment's magic swept us away/and the young man's dream/was almost seen so plain" with "we'll get through anything/are you, are you falling for me/like I'm oh I'm falling for you" and tell me which one is better. Singularity does have its lyrical bright spots, though. "Telescopes" contains at least a triple entendre, talking about "subjects," "objects," and "predicates" in reference to either grammar or actual telescopes, or a conversation, which is very clever writing.

Bottom line is there's not enough of that. I'm not going to delete Singularity or anything drastic like that. I'll probably keep listening to it every once in a while. But looking at my top 25 played tracks in iTunes, twelve of them are tracks from The Everglow. I don't exactly see Singularity making it into there.

Currently listening: The Four Seasons, Canadian Brass version

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