John Mayer’s new EP catches the next “Wave”

Photo courtesy of Mario Sorrenti

The way contemporary music is made and then released to the public is changing rapidly. With the unprecedented ease with which artists can issue their music, it is becoming more and more common for artists to distribute their work in nontraditional ways.

Free streaming services like SoundCloud and DatPiff make it incredibly easy to discover brand new music from undiscovered artists, and the immense catalogs of paid services like Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal allow listeners access to millions of songs from all kinds of genres, artists and time periods.

Many even begin to change the current notion of what qualifies as recorded music. In 2016, both Frank Ocean and Beyoncé put out visual albums — not quite music videos, not quite short films — that challenged the idea of music being a solely auditory experience.

By adding and editing tracks on “The Life of Pablo” after the album’s official release date, Kanye West made many people question what does and what does not qualify as a complete work of art.

Now John Mayer has joined the ranks of visionary artists by opting to release his seventh studio album, “The Search for Everything,” as a series of three four-song extended plays. Technically, the album is currently in the process of being released: “Wave One” was released Jan. 20, and “Wave Two” was released Feb. 24.

The release of “Wave Two” approximately one month after “Wave One” provides a frame of reference for considering the direction that Mayer intends to take with “The Search for Everything.”

The songs of “Wave Two” are markedly similar to those of “Wave One,” and together they represent a holistic compilation of the various subgenres of rock that John Mayer has explored over the course of his near 20-year career.

Songs like “Still Feel Like Your Man” and “Helpless” signify a return to the highly enjoyable and skillfully crafted pop-rock of John Mayer’s music from the
“Continuum” era.

These songs are a welcome shift from the abundance of country-Americana music found on Mayer’s last two releases, 2012’s “Born and Raised” and 2013’s
“Paradise Valley.” However, the sound from those two albums is not abandoned completely and is incorporated adeptly on the album through “Emoji of a Wave” and “Roll it on Home.”

Lyrically, the songs on “Wave Two” tell of the different aspects of the life of a man who is searching for both something within himself and in someone else.

In “Helpless,” he pleads for his own sake, singing “if I’m helpless tell me now, tell me now/And I’ll stop tryna figure it out.” In “Roll it on Home,” he makes a plea to his love interest, singing “roll it on home/tomorrow’s another chance you won’t go it alone/if you roll it on home” over the soothing sound of a steel lap guitar and a folksy syncopated drum beat.

Mayer is at his best with an impressive coupling of music and lyricism. The sincerity of the lyrics strikes a seamless balance with the wistful and reflective nature of the album’s instrumentation, ultimately allowing the listener both a poignant and entertaining listening experience. Although much of his audience may not have noticed, from 2011 until now John Mayer has been largely absent from the music-making community he once dominated.

After a tarnished public image resulting from a 2010 magazine interview, two lackluster albums that did not rival the success of Grammy Award-winner “Continuum” and a vocal cord sickness that did not allow him to sing publicly for almost two years, the pop icon recoiled into a state of reclusion and self-reflection.

Mayer began to re-enter the industry in 2015 by joining the remaining members of the Grateful Dead and embarking on two successful tours.

As for the future of his recorded music, fans did not quite know what was in store for the rest of Mayer’s career or if he would even continue his career at all.

With “Wave One” and “Wave Two” of “The Search for Everything,” listeners will be thrilled that John Mayer has done what all timeless artists have done: used his unfruitful and tumultuous years to fuel a major comeback release.

So far, the unfolding project that is “The Search for Everything” has proven to be a testament to the idea that the best things come in multiple, small packages.