Consequence of Sound would like to welcome new writer, Matt Melis, who is writing his own new feature, “Missed Miscellaneous Masterpieces.”
Each month, I delve into both my record collection and the miscellaneous sections of my favorite record shops to recommend an artist and album that might be missing from your playlists. After you’re done reading, you have no more excuses.
Mark Mulcahy’s voice-one that most have never knowingly listened to-is “the most beautiful voice I have ever heard,” according to no less than Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, a name synonymous with credibility among music fans.
Mulcahy has managed to elude fame for over two decades now despite paying his dues through nearly every conceivable musical medium. He played the part of college radio darling as the frontman of Miracle Legion. His group Polaris acted as house band for the Nickelodeon cult hit The Adventures of Pete and Pete. He has teamed up with cartoonist Ben Katchor to write operas, and the two recently completed a successful run of their off-Broadway musical, The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island (or the Friends of Dr. Rushower). For all his creative collaborations, Mulcahy’s strongest work resides on his three full-length solo albums, Fathering being his debut.
The term “solo album” is not something that Mulcahy takes lightly. He plays all the instruments on Fathering, but his voice, an instrument in its own right, is what carries these songs. The stripped-down arrangements are a skeleton that Mulcahy gives flesh to with vocals that range from deep hushes (Hey Self Defeater, Apartment Murders) to distinctive wails (Jason) and even a falsetto (Ciao My Shining Star), each delivered with compelling sincerity and each challenging him to explore structures that most songwriters won’t attempt.
Fans of Polaris will recognize the beautiful meshing between Mulcahy’s guitar and voice, but the only songs of that kinetic-pop variety are “Jason” and “Bill Jocko.” On Fathering, Mulcahy is more comfortable letting his songs meander and wander with short bursts of energy that signal urgency or a sense of sureness, even if Mulcahy is only certain that he is uncertain. Perhaps, the mood of Fathering is best conveyed by these lines from the album’s “In The Afternoon.” (“In the afternoon/On a porch in a wicker chair/I’m listening again/To your life story.”)
“Storyteller” is a complementary title often bestowed upon songwriters, but Mulcahy does something complex and rare on Fathering. He tells a story without beating listeners over the head with the fact that he’s telling them a story. These songs are subtle tales that reflect upon old relationships and past transgressions in a cathartic negotiation of a path forward, each song culminating in a resolution (or as close to one as Mulcahy can muster) revealed through intricate vocal inflections or musical variations near its conclusion. In “Hey Self Defeater,” the final message to the demoralized is simply (“You’re underrated so quit looking down/And look up”). “I Woke Up In The Mayflower” resolves in a gentle diffusion and the line (“And so I just lay back in bed”).
Fathering leaves the listener with the impression that songwriting is an epistemic experience for Mulcahy-that we’re witnessing him trying to sort something out for himself, and the results are rarely definitive. The gorgeous “Hurry, Please Hurry” boasts the less than reassuring promise (“It should be fine/No really I’m sure/There’s hardly any reason to worry”). The stuttering delivery of words like “tempted” and “truth” in “Tempted” reveals uncertainty about being able to move beyond an unhealthy relationship. “I Woke Up In The Mayflower” is comprised almost entirely of questions about Mulcahy’s future-ones that he grills himself with, as if he is the prosecutor, witness, and accused all in one; and as always, the jury seems to be out.
The highlights of Fathering are “Hey Self Defeater,” “I Woke Up In The Mayflower,” and “Tempted.” They document Mulcahy’s transition both from band member to solo artist and from juvenility to maturity. The title track, “Fathering,” demonstrates that he is considering the consequences of his actions for perhaps the first time. (“Well I got away clean…at least I thought I did/But being a grownup…you might start to hear voices/And I can feel the weight upon my shoulders/’Cause sometimes being loved takes away all your choices.”)
Next time you have a free afternoon, a porch, and a wicker chair, give Mark Mulcahy a spin. Even if you don’t have any of those things, still go ahead. Catch you in May.
Where to Pick it Up:
Amazon.com: Used – from $8.41
Mezzotint.com: New – $12.00 (Mark’s own label provides the cheapest new copy.)