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May.e “Mattiola”

by Patrick ST. Michel

Special To The Japan Times

Thousands of people have uploaded videos of themselves to YouTube playing acoustic covers of well-known songs. Armed with a guitar, a voice and dreams of viral stardom, the covers tackle everything from contemporary pop to hip-hop, and more often than not are done with an ironic nod to the viewer.

On the other side of that, there are the covers May.e posted online last month. Her stripped-down takes on The Ronettes and My Bloody Valentine ooze emotion and sincerity. She has recently recorded a full-length of original material, “Mattiola,” and it’s even more gorgeous than her covers — and stands possibly as one of the year’s best albums.

Save for a brief drum on “Love Beating,” May.e only plays guitar on “Mattiola.” She’s able to construct eight entrancing acoustic songs, despite rarely playing more than a few chords. In fact the tracks tend to rely on the very repetition of those same notes. “Fine Shoes” and “Bookmark” become hypnotic as a result, and the lonely lurch of “Betsuzi” becomes even more despondent. The technique has the opposite effect on the jaunty “Sugar Smell,” which becomes even happier. Like Devendra Banhart and Animal Collective before her, May.e uses a slightly psychedelic approach to make her music all the more inviting.

It’s the way May.e’s voice wraps around that guitar, though, that elevates “Mattiola” to the level of being one of the year’s best. That’s partially thanks to her home-recorded sound — her voice sounds slightly fuzzy, and making out what specific lyrics are is often a futile task. Yet when the lyrics come through clearly, they cut — like the simple-but-effective line, “Spring is here / I think of you” on second-track “Love Beating.” She is able to control her voice in just the right way, raising it when needed and adding a bit of drama to the music, which is demonstrated on the album’s highlight, “Kataomori.” The guitar strokes repeating as May.e’s multitracked voice — which seems to be saying “loving you” — builds over it, climaxing like a fireworks display. Like the rest of “Mattiola,” it’s a breathtaking example of what a talented artist can do with the barest tools.

“Mattiola” by May.e is available for download via Tanikineiri Records’ website: www.tanukineiri.net/home/records