Review Summary: I dare you not to be moved.
Like it or not, there's something special about this place. Whatever force you believe to be behind it - nature, god or otherwise - it's very difficult to deny that a subtle strain of beauty runs through the planet which we inhabit. Away from the banks and the prisons, on the basic level of existence, there's a gentle, heartstopping delicacy in the most fundamental aspects of life - emotion, connection, standing on a beach at night. But have you ever experienced a split-second appreciation of it all slip through your synapses? Like for a moment it all made sense, but then it became intangible, impossible to latch onto. The underlying presence of that power, that strength of feeling, is what Mae call The Everglow, and that's the name of their 2005 release.
If that whole concept seems slightly pretentious or overly dramatic it's only because that's the direction Mae push you towards. Starting and closing with an introduction and epilogue in the truest sense of those words, The Everglow is not approached as anything close to just a collection of songs. This is a record accompanied by album art and an overarching narrative so celebrated and frequently mentioned that it's practically impossible to avoid. The opener's spoken-word section atop a mellow, matter-of-fact piano proves so, telling you to prepare yourself for the audio
portion, as if you would genuinely be there for other primary reasons. And the melodrama of the first real track's piano, We're So Far Away, eases you in with the lines 'Did you know what you were doing, did you know? ... When the light first came upon us, and we saw the everglow'
. It's instantly apparent that Mae are getting at something.
What follows is a phenomenally thoughtful and powerful succession of songs which lie between the louder side of alt-rock and the softer side of pop-rock, grazing pianos and euphoric choruses without ever falling into generic territory. The whole record takes on a faint transcendence, owed largely in equal parts to the vocals of Dave Elkin and the grand, immaculate production. Elkin delivers with authority but maintains a fragile edge which comes to the fore on the softer songs like Oceans, a mid-album ballad whose bass drums put a slightly foreboding outline round the verse's pensive piano. He swings solidly through a variety of moods which carry the album's story in their wake, each more convincing and emphatic than the previous.
And the force and momentum that Mae put behind everything drives these songs into a stunning narrative. Pop-rock guitars add the right aesthetics, packing the weight behind the aggressively lonely Someone Else's Arms and the hope behind Anything, and they turn the title-track into a celebratory anthem so joyous and perfect that it sums up exactly what The Everglow as a concept is - a place or state where love and meaning exist - utopia, if you will. It blends irresistible piano with uplifting guitars and a semi-wordless chorus designed for sing-alongs. Whoa whoa, and our hearts are on the everglow - so just let go and fall into it
. Both light-hearted and overwhelmingly weighty at the same time, Mae set out on The Everglow to remind you why certain things are important, and as long as you give them your full attention they're going to succeed.
But for all the vague assertions of the value and force of love, the real secret to The Everglow is how grounded it actually is. Though it's hidden slightly below the surface of the album's flawless pianos and poppy guitars, the record's most crucial song lyrically is probably musically its least remarkable. Mistakes We Knew We Were Making is where the story turns, where the wanting turns to hope and everything gets easier, but it's not a sudden, perfect realisation; it's a gritty, unwanted and concrete event which triggers a subtle change of heart. Once the meaning of Mistakes clicks, The Everglow makes perfect sense in every single way. Its narrative is constructed interestingly, its most deliberate and single-minded songs sitting at one end or the other, with the middle section slightly less arresting but rarely less enjoyable, and though its concept doesn't yield on first play the music is brilliant enough that it's nothing of a chore to keep listening for it.
Despite its lack of innovation and anything regarding experimentation, Mae's The Everglow is arguably a perfect album and comes incredibly close to a perfect rating. For some people it'll be too accessible, too considered or too sweet, but if those three things are what you look for then you're going to fall in love. If you always thought Waking Ashland could be good if they were better, or you wish Copeland were more ambitious, then it will hit every right chord. The hooks are heavy and plenty, the songs are stellar and the way it's all put together is seamless; there's no better testament to the quality of this album than the fact that its title is a perfect descriptor; Mae have managed to capture on record that moment, the one where it all made sense, but it slipped away, and now you want it back, and you finally, at long last, have a name for that feeling, and it's called The Everglow.