Andrew Mays (recording under his pseudonym Eien) more than delivers on the promise of his debut CD, partly cloudy skies, with Dandelion Dreamer, an outstanding excursion into quirky minimalist retro electronica that seems destined to land near the top of my Best of the Year list for 2004 (and it's only March!). Unlike partly cloudy skies, Dandelion Dreamer seldom strays from its purposeful formula, although there is enough variety among the ten tracks to keep listener interest (if not downright intrigue) high after many playings (I am probably on my tenth as I write this review).
Mays operates in a unique subgenre of electronic music (he may be one of only a handful that inhabit its landscape). He avoids the use of chords, washes or drones, instead creating his songs from solitary notes and tones (as well as some excellent and assorted electronic rhythms, derived from melodic synth bass notes and drum like effects). He "holds" notes and tones (using sustain, echo, and reverb effects) for long periods of time, allowing the musical elements to "bleed" into one another, but these are still only single isolated notes. The effect, as it was on certain songs of partly cloudy skies, is both retro (Mays specializes in using synthesizers that exhibit shiny bright '60s sound to them) and also playfully innocent. This is 100 percent unpretentious electronic music; sometimes joyful and sometimes more somber, but never ponderous or self-important.
Track length is perfect (in the three to four minute range) for these miniature journeys into quirky rhythms, plinking notes, and twinkling starfields of tones and chimes. Any longer and the idiosyncratic nature of Mays' style might wear thin; any shorter and the pieces would feel undeveloped (a complaint I expressed about one or two tracks in my review of partly cloudy skies). Here, Mays allows each song to evolve through equal doses of repeating motifs and themes as well as improvisational wanderings.
A sampling of the songs reveals the multiplicity of moods contained on the CD. "sunrise" is a slower tempo number, anchored by bass beats, upper register flute-like synths (remember, though, this synth is playing single notes, even if they are held for several seconds), and very high-tone bells. "ashes" increases the tempo, bouncing Ray Lynchian (circa No Blue Thing) synths off each other, buoyed by an undercurrent of crashing percussive effects. "orchids" is delightfully playful, all aglow with irregular twinkling notes and tones, with a measured bass beat beneath it.
Mays pushes his own envelope a little on "in the ground" with lower register oboe-like notes, scratching/groaning effects, and a quick tempo rhythm comprised of a variety of bass drum, cymbal, and snare beats. "andoru" opens with a railroad signal-like two note refrain and soon evolves into a sedate yet rhythmic exploration of kinetic rhythms and notes which have a subtle Tim Story-ish melancholy to them. "remission" offers up booming bass beats and plonking water droplet tones alongside whistling textures. "sunset" closes the album out with Mays' only stroll into glitch ambient territory, featuring skitch beats and a slightly more contemporary sound to the music, although not in the least bit inconsistent with the earlier material.
Mays is one of the true originals in electronic music. His concept of using notes and tones, allowing sustain and reverb to construct the overriding musical elements in his songs, could have led to disaster in lesser hands. Mays, however, is a master at this technique. Dandelion Dreamer is full of moments that stopped me dead in my tracks (I frequently listened to this while walking my dog, Onyx). Playful, innocent, whimsical, yet also sophisticated, intelligent, and incredibly well-executed, this is an album that, if you'll pardon the pun, "hits all the right notes" for me. Listening to this recording is like finding the fountain of "musical" youth. With the only caveat being that spacemusic and drifting ambient fans may find this CD too "busy," I give Dandelion Dreamer my highest recommendation possible.