Review Summary: An epic journey through time, space, and cheese.
When we last heard Mae, they were coming off of an ambitious EP trio – (m)oring, (a)fternoon, and (e)vening. That 2009-2010 spanning project was generally a success, although the (e)vening release dwarfed the others with its star-lit classical piano movements. After a long absence, Mae has returned with Multisensory Aesthetic Experience
– their first full length LP since 2007’s Singularity
. This record again takes aim at the stars, creating a piece that sounds like it would be at home floating through time and space. The guitars ring out resplendently, propelled by synthetic undercurrents and dazzling electronic effects. The vocals range from the warm romantic embrace of The Everglow
to cold, distant, and entirely autotuned. In a lot of ways it’s like Mae performing a representation of their career-to-date…while on Mars.
I can tell you right now that a lot of people are going to be let down by Multisensory Aesthetic Experience
. It’s a weird
album, and the band makes some very questionable decisions. I’m still not entirely convinced whether the oddity of this record is a good or bad thing. The futuristic tone of ‘5 Light Years’ is downright brilliant, contrasting gritty and full-sounding guitar riffs with twisting, winding vocal effects that make it sound as if Dave Elkins is being sucked into a wormhole. On the other hand, you have ‘The Overview’, which sounds like Mae singing through a prism of cheese that was cut straight from the old block of chirpy Relient K optimism. The way the album bounces around between genuinely awe-inspiring moments and ones that make you scratch your head is frustrating, because the gems reveal what this album could have been while the pitfalls make you extremely thankful for what it didn’t become.
Still, the aesthetically pleasing songs outweigh the duds. ‘Kaleidoscope’s string-laden backdrop makes for an interesting clash with the chorus’ robotic vocals. Slower tracks like ‘Our Love is a Painted Picture’ reveal just how captivatingly beautiful this synthed-out, electro-washed, spacey aura can be when Mae slows things down and gets introspective . ‘Flow’ is among the most stunning closers in the band’s catalogue, a six minute instrumental that stretches ambience across a frenetic rhythm which is gradually joined by synths/electronic effects to lend it a dream-like quality. Moments like these make up for the goofiness of ‘Overview’, the clunky execution of ‘Sing’, or otherwise decent tracks like ‘Let It Die’ or ‘Simple Words’ that simply feel out of place. I hate to revert to the old “mixed bag” adjective, but if ever it applied to an album, it would be Multisensory Aesthetic Experience
Longtime Mae fans should approach this album with cautious optimism. It covers new ground for a band that has been rooted in pop rock for the majority its career. That’s cause for at least some celebration, even if it comes with its share of growing pains. There are certain gems here that are worthy of standing alongside Mae’s best material: ‘5 Light Years’ in particular encompasses everything this album aims to be in just over four thrilling minutes. It’ll be an adjustment, especially for any diehards who managed to avoid the 3.0
EP – which contained half of the songs present on Multisensory Aesthetic Experience
while serving as an expectations buffer. This is the present and the future for Mae, and their conceptual aspirations here are, at the very least, admirable. One can only hope that they’re able to shake off the rust and eventually create something as consistently masterful as The Everglow
again. Between their various EP’s, Singularity
, and now this, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen Mae play at their full potential.