In the opening track of Mae’s latest album, “Singularity,” frontman Dave Elkins promises us that he is, “out of control, asleep at the wheel.” But it’s hard to believe him when he is simultaneously presenting you with the well-crafted, finely crafted Indie Rock tune that is “On the Brink.”
No, Mr. Elkins seems very much in control, indeed. In subsequent songs – such as the catchy “Crazy 8’s” and the melodic “Just Let Go,” – Mae proves again and again that they are capable of writing very enjoyable, very “in control” music.
Elkins himself, for instance, never misses a note as he sings in his clear, earnest voice. In fact, his voice may be a little bit too clear and earnest; without many vocal dynamics, Elkins struggles to lend emotional weight to the words he sings.
The lyrics themselves vary in style from the vague and literal-minded (“We’ve got all night just to make it all right/Will you take a walk with me?”) to the vague and abstract (“Dive away with me/You’ve got what I need/Will you be my rocket?”), but they rarely seem to be much more than some words to sing over the music.
And what about that music? It is largely defined by Zach Gehring’s workmanlike, rhythmic guitar. Gehring provides “Singularity” with rocking, distorted riffs and clean, atmospheric chord progressions in equal measure. This is accompanied by Rob Sweitzer on piano and synthesizer, who adds melody to sections of songs that might otherwise be dull.
Meanwhile, bass guitar fills songs in with understated, yet effective lines. Similarly, the drumming – though not particularly technically impressive – always complements the music well and sometimes features surprisingly heavy riffs, especially during the verses.
“Singularity” features sleek production that allows all of these instruments to coexist peacefully; no single element ever dominates the rest. But something about the album’s by-the-numbers production leaves it feeling a little bit too streamlined. Like Elkins’ vocals, the music isn’t raw, and it often fails to connect at a human level.
After listening to just the first handful of tracks, another of the band’s limitations becomes clear: the composition varies little from song to song. Though the traditional rock/pop song structure is effective (verse/chorus/verse/chorus/breakdown/chorus), it grows tired and predictable long before the album has concluded. Worse still, every chorus seems to feature the same soaring vocal harmonies and raging synthesizer voicing.
All of this helps to define “Singularity” as imminently listenable, but never truly engaging. Mae simply doesn’t take many creative risks. The result is that, although their songs never unnerve or disconcert, they never truly excite or surprise, either.
My hope is that, when Mae begins writing their next album, they use their many talents to create something more offbeat, dangerous and creative, something out of control. That would be a truly singular experience.