Exploring the Recent Crop of Ukulele Missteps

Dent May performs with a ukulele in Leeds, England, March 2009. Photo: Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns

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Dent May is a very dangerous man. Oh, you might not think it to look at him — with his big glasses and purposely preppy outfits, it seems like he’s trying with all his might to out-geek Elvis Costello circa This Year’s Model (admittedly no easy feat). But the Mississippian’s most destructive weapon is in fact the humble little instrument that helped make him notable. May was initially championed by Animal Collective and given a home on their Paw Tracks label partly because of his facility on the wee axe known as the ukulele, as was made plain by the pithy title of his 2009 debut album, The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele. However, there was much more to May than his peculiar choice of instrumentation — ultimately it was his sharp, sophisticated songwriting and arch artistic sensibilities that made him an indie-pop attraction.

His second record, Do Things, was unleashed this week, and it finds May effectively transcending uke-pop for a more eclectic approach and a fuller production style, touching on everything from fuzz-guitar rock riffs to hotfoot funk. But it’s too late, the damage has already been done — May has already helped to perpetuate the perilous illusion that it’s cute, quirky, and “alternative” to play pop music on the ukulele, inspiring less gifted artists to take the uke-pop path to fatal hipsterdom. But don’t take our word for it — take a peek into this terrifying realm of four-string folly, and find out for yourself.

1. Amanda Palmer

When the ukulele Judgement Day arrives at last, Amanda Palmer will have far more to answer for than May, having led even more innocent souls down the dark path. As a goth-pop diva with Dresden Dolls she was great, but as the uke-strumming evil clown of indie cabaret, she is a walking, talking, strumming cautionary tale.

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