- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2007 8 Aug
0. Last Transmission (hidden track)
- Brink of Disaster
- Crazy 8's
- Sometimes I Can't Make It Alone
- Just Let Go
- On Top
- Sic Semper Tyrannis
- Release Me
- Last Transmission II
Things are certainly on the up-and-up for the Multi-sensory Aesthetic Experience known as Mae. Despite very little promotion or airplay in their first five years, the modern rock band has still developed a strong enough following through the Internet, word of mouth, and major tours (The Fray, Relient K, Vans Warped) to upgrade from the smaller Tooth & Nail label to the big leagues of Capitol. Suddenly, Mae is on the fast track to prominence with their third original release Singularity, which Alternative Press has declared one of the most anticipated albums of 2007.
Anticipation is indeed high after an album as remarkable as The Everglow, with its accessible sound and seeker-friendly lyrics that place the listener on something of a spiritual journey. Singularity is not nearly as grandiose a concept album. But it still relies on thick modern rock with a strong sense of melody (which has always been Mae's strongest suit), and there's still a sense of depth that seems to linger below the surface.
Yet something's changed, and it's not easy to pinpoint the specifics. Howard Benson (P.O.D., My Chemical Romance) steps into the producer's role, and though the guitars seem more primed this time around, it's very much in line with the band's approach. If anything, Rob Sweitzer's keyboards seem slightly less elegant, downplaying the piano and ambient synth patches in favor of the Moog synth sound that's back in style thanks to bands like The Killers or Franz Ferdinand. Mae still overflows with skilled musicianship all around, from Jacob Marshall's surefooted drumming to Dave Elkins' warm vocals vaguely reminiscent of Chris Carrabba (Dashboard Confessional). As far as emo-ish indie rock bands go, you won't find many better than this one.
The hindrance lies somewhere in the songwriting rather than the sound itself. What happened to the hooks that made The Everglow so instantly unforgettable? Where are the stylish riffs that helped vary Destination: Beautiful from song to song? Like Destination, Singularity gets better with repeat listens, but more out of familiarity than the discovery of nuance. Though the songs here are catchy and occasionally complex, they're more straightforward, missing some of the anthemic qualities that characterized Mae's best material. And at times the songs feel too labored when melodies try too hard to be different. The clunky use of the title in the chorus of "Sometimes I Can't Make It Alone" (the album's first single) is less dissonant than it is a mouthful of words without a compelling melodic foothold.
As for the lyrics, they're certainly not incomprehensible, but it's all very impressionistic reflections on everyday love, spiritual love, or the love of a good spacecraft ("Rocket")—beats me, the words are wide open for interpretation. Some people like that sort of thing, allowing you to hear whatever you want to hear. In a way, that ties in with Mae's enthusiasm for the science of perception through music, and there is a lot to be potentially unearthed on Singularity, including two hidden tracks—one at the start of the album, as well as one at the end. But is it as focused as The Everglow was? Not exactly.
Mae has said that their songs regularly touch on themes of something greater than our selves. But who or what are they referring to in "Release Me" when looking for restoration/salvation: "If you'd get next to me and help me find simplicity/Then you could be the one to take me/To break me and flood my soul." What "Home" are they longing to return to: "You will always find me when I run away/So I will not slow down until I make it back into your arms this time." Likewise, "Brink of Disaster" represents a desperate heart's cry looking for change, while "Rocket" seeks restoration.
Though some of the band members are inspired by their Christian beliefs, Mae has emphatically stated they're not a "Christian band." Yet in one of their online "webisodes" explaining the album, Marshall refers to a singularity as "the ultimate unknowable in science … the interface between the natural and the supernatural." Isn't that the mystery of faith? And Sweitzer points to the single event that sparked the universe and infused us with purpose. Isn't that Creation? In this way, Mae sparks conversation without getting into specifics or answers. Hence why some will be frustrated by the band's ambiguity, while others appreciate the seeker approach.
Whether you perceive these songs as spiritual or physical, it doesn't contradict a Christian worldview, nor can the songs be called meaningless with some deeper intent clearly underlying them. Still, when Singularity is this catchy, I can't be the only one who doesn't want to think too hard about abstract lyrics … or is thinking too hard the problem? Smart indie pop or simplified prog rock—maybe this is the "ultimate unknowable" with Mae.