Since the momentous return of Mark Mulcahy with his 2013 record Dear Mark J Mulcahy I Love You, each and every note the prolific singer-songwriter blesses us with has been worth savoring. His latest, The Gus, is no exception and should be consumed as slowly and thoughtfully as possible. It is a rich, eclectic collection of songs that reminds us why Mulcahy is treasured as one of the most significant artists of his generation.
The Gus finds Mulcahy at the top of his game as a vocalist and storyteller. He’s never sounded better than on songs like “Happy Boat,” where he drops into a bit of a deeper register, one that works so well as he sings about following your bliss alongside ethereal guitar and piano. He sounds incredible as he belts out the haunting, slinky “A Long Time Ago,” embracing his full vocal range, again singing about the search for happiness, and the masks we wear to get through. The angelic voice of Rain Phoenix sneaks up on us on album opener “Wicked World,” a song that explores both the darkness and the beauty of the banal, and the ways we get derailed by life again and again. Though the song is a kind of epic, its harmonies are delicate and simple, and Mulcahy comes out the other side reminding us to stop and smell the flowers sometimes.
Even on some of the more off-beat songs on The Gus, Mulcahy enchants us. The deranged heroine of “Daisy Marie” shows the crazy things we do for love, and the titular subject of “Mr. Bell” is a delusional one percenter. Both are grim, but funny.
Mulcahy channels his early ’90s rock roots with “Taking Baby Steps,” perhaps the beating heart at the center of The Gus. It’s a little grungy, a little beat-poet, and plenty melodic, and its title tells us all we need to know. It’s a song about taking your time and the gradual journey toward change. “You can’t rush the things you love / You can’t please any people all the time / You can’t please all the people any time,” he sings. In true Mark Mulcahy fashion, he’s dropping a profound message on us in the form of a tune so magnetic and beautiful, we’re sobbing by the end of it. But it’s happy tears. After all, when Mulcahy says we don’t need to carry the load on our own, we have a little faith that maybe he’s right.