I remember hearing Olympia’s indie iconoclasts Beat Happening for the first time in college. A classmate of mine blasted one of their tapes in the cafeteria, and gradually you can see the looks of bewilderment and annoyance on the people’s faces when they noticed how out of tune the vocals and guitar playing were. It was a true punk rock moment, but there was nothing particularly punk in Beat Happening’s state of mind. They weren’t ranting at the world, just banging on their instruments in a simple, charming (at least to my ears) way.
Austin May will most likely get that kind of reaction from folks who’ve absorbed too much Top-40 radio. This is “love it or hate it” material; rarely will you find somebody in the middle. May’s voice is dry and often drones, such as on the intro to “Dog Ears.” It’s an acquired taste. While his singing is not as bizarre as Calvin Johnson’s, it’s bound to polarize listeners. And there’s nothing wrong with that; the most challenging artists are usually not the most widely understood.
The dead branches and storm clouds on the album cover fit the mood. It’s a little dreary at times, but it can rock, too — check out the acoustic shred in “S. Bouquet.” May plays all of the instruments himself, and the production doesn’t get anymore intimate than this. It feels as if you are in the room with him, listening to these compelling private conversations.
Austin May: www.austinmay.com