MALI MAE
Personal
[self-released]

Now this is how to start the summer properly. Mae is a young singer-songwriter from Northamptonshire who has, with little fanfare, put together a collection of breezy pop that is as good as anything you’ll hear on top 40 radio.

Personal, her full debut album, is a celebration of love and loss, of young hopes and dreams coming to fruition, or wishing them to. The opening song, ‘Up’, is both an exceptional and ever-so-slightly haunting pop song, but also an immediate showcase for a voice that will regularly stop your heart. The instrumentation here, and indeed throughout the album, is generally quite sparse: all minor chord piano lines, brief sections of snare playing, programmed keys. Yes her sudden mood and melody shifts are very much from the handbook of modern pop. Yet it sounds natural; and she seems totally in control of it all. Owning a song with this sort of confidence should takes years to develop. She’s barely out her teens and she’s there already. It’s actually all a bit frightening.

‘Remind Me’, which adds soft strings that come in and out of focus, ratchets up the drama a little, the chorus delivering a sustained moment of vulnerability. It doesn’t take a huge imagination to envision her sat behind a piano playing it on the X-Factor. And that’s no dig: it would melt even Cowell’s frosty heart. ‘Get It Right’ has some attractive background harmonies on it, presumably her own voice doing all the parts. The track has some real sass to it; the soulful lines at the end making New Boots think of Joss Stone in her early days. ‘This One Too’, meanwhile, is a song that drives home a defiant note, aiming higher and higher with each verse. It’s followed up with ‘Try Again’, which aims in a completely different direction. 1970s-style finger-picking acoustic guitar, and a spiritual feel. “I keep falling in and out of love/With somebody I don’t know” is a pretty heartbreaking line delivered in her hands.

Her previous mini-LP All I Know, from 2017, only hinted at what Mae could do on Personal. She’s tightened the songwriting for sure, but crucially projected a stronger presence in all areas. Like on ‘Keep Me High’, the slow-burning and sparse blues-pop number which draws favourable comparisons with another NN artist, Charlotte Carpenter.

‘Something Else’ bring a certain Joni Mitchell-esque yearning to the album, but again with that melodic certainty that all the big game popstars have in their locker. Before the album is over you get a country stummer in ‘Down To Me’, whilst ‘Bones’ darker colours hints at domestic violence and general bad relationship times. It’s a nice counterweight to some of the lighter material actually, though you’d hope it’s not too autobiographical. Closer ‘Perfect’ is perhaps sequenced incorrectly – it’s crystalline, gospel vocal really needs highlighting earlier on. It would make a terrific single, for sure.

Regardless, Personal is a true triumph; the diamond that shines from the shadows. It’s discoveries like Mae that keeps the chase in new music alive. Someone sign her up!

Phil Moore

Personal is out now via the usual digital platforms