erasing clouds

Mark Mulcahy, In Pursuit of Your Happiness

reviewed by dave heaton

Mark Mulcahy's new album In Pursuit of Your Happiness comes with a boardgame, wherein players move plastic pigs around a board and land on spaces with instructions like "Destroy the things you want. Take another turn." And "The trap was set for YOU. Excuse yourself with a lie." Many of the game-space captions come from the album's song lyrics, like "You're pretty like money says." And "You most preserve yourself." On the album's cover, Mulcahy stands above the pigs like a shepherd – we're the pigs, he's writing songs to help us pursue happiness. Or is he the one in pursuit of our happiness, like the album title says?

To Mulcahy's varied career description – lead singer for a rock band (Miracle Legion), creator of gorgeous, fragile, folk-pop solo albums, writer of theme music for a Nickelodeon TV show (Adventures of Pete & Pete), collaborator on theatrical productions – should be add 'self-help guru' or 'manipulator of human beings'? These songs are filled with people who are longing for that always-on-the-run feeling of contentment and happiness, yet the songs' perspective on these characters is slippery; like all the best of Mulcahy's work, there's a mysteriousness to the songs.

At the same time, the album's strongest emotional points come when Mulcahy adopts an understanding, tender perspective towards the people in his songs, like on the beautiful piano ballad "Be Sure" ("be sure be sure be sure / it's OK to not know everything") and on the haunting closing number "He Vanished," a tribute to a departed friend that's one of the most moving songs Mulcahy has ever recorded.

"He Vanished" mixes Mulcahy's spoken voice with his singing voice, to great effect. In general on In Pursuit of Your Happiness he seems especially comfortable with mixing and matching musical styles, to a greater degree than in the past. He's surrounded by more guest musicians here than on his other solo albums, and the result is an expanded musical palette – glockenspiel, organ and J. Mascis's guitar here, cello and jazz-style bass there. The fuller and more diverse sound somehow helps accelerate the album's emotional velocity; these songs are slippery but potent, light as air but heavy…like happiness.


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