So if you have come to know me in any respect over the past year you might be aware that at some point I made an attempt to list – and explain – my top 25 albums of all time. I stopped at #9 almost a year ago and never finished it, because you know, this is me we’re talking about. I’ve tried to bring myself to take initiative and actually write up the last eight albums since (the list itself has been finished for a long time and is sitting in a Notepad file somewhere) but no, no. Nothing. Too late. At this point there are so many albums on that list I would toss out – and glaring, inexcusable omissions that haunt my dreams to this day – that it isn’t really worth it.
Of all those glaring omissions – and there are lots of them, not included for one dubious reason or another – none was more inexcusable than Polaris’s The Adventures of Pete and Pete soundtrack, a record that I actually already reviewed a few years back. Reading that review again (or skimming through it – it’s hard to me to stomach stuff I wrote when I was 20), it’s obvious that I was making an attempt to disclaim my love for the record right off the bat and chalk it up to nostalgia as kind of a safety net. But the truth is that my love for those 12 tracks only grew after that review was posted, to the point that even those last four tracks I casually dismissed in the review I now view as maybe the four most important songs on the record (“Ashamed Of The Story I Told” and “As Usual”, in particular, standing as two essential pieces of melancholy). It might have just taken on a new meaning after I graduated from college and found myself alone and painfully nostalgic, but nevertheless The Adventures of Pete and Pete soundtrack has ingrained itself so deeply into my musical self-conscious that it embodies a fragile, hopelessly contemplative part of myself that no other record can hope to touch.
Why didn’t I include it in my list? Because it was music from a Nickelodeon show for kiddies and I felt weird about it. Welp.
And so we have Fathering, former Polaris singer/songwriter Mark Mulcahy’s first solo outing after Pete & Pete‘s cancellation in 1996, which somehow manages to take the Pete & Pete soundtrack’s quietest and most meditative moments and deepen them further. There are no sweet, summery pop-rock tunes here; most of Fathering consists of naked, unaccompanied electric guitar and Mulcahy’s strangely comforting voice, warbling through a set of longing, melancholic songs that almost beg to be heard at 3 the morning. And that is honestly the most concrete descriptor I can muster for songs like these; I don’t think Fathering really hit home for me until I put it on while alone in my apartment, very late at night, after a particularly rough day. It is music designed for being alone.
The key word is “comfort”, here; these are songs that envelop the listener in warmth, despite not being particularly happy songs. “Hey Self Defeater” has got to be the one of the more convincing “self-help” songs I’ve heard; elementally, the song is a friend comforting another friend, but with Mulcahy’s inimitable voice and gentle guitarwork it functions as an audible arm over your shoulder. It’s not a song that offers easy answers – the opening lines “never mind overjoyed / just start with happy” make that clear – but it offers reason and understanding to someone during a time of self doubt, which is arguably much more valuable. Simply put, it’s Mulcahy at his best. And while I can’t go to bat for most of the lyrics on the album (mostly because I am not that familiar with them), songs like “Tempted”, “In The Afternoon” and especially the aching falsetto of “Ciao My Shining Star” embody that same understanding, cutting through with a beauty that is hard to discern.
I can’t speak for the entire body of Mark Mulcahy’s work. Fathering and Pete & Pete are the only two records of his I know well; I’ve barely heard any of his Miracle Legion stuff and am only just beginning to dip into his solo work. So maybe this is the beginning of a long, fruitful musical relationship. I can only say that Mulcahy’s work digs into me in a way that, at this point in my life, I can’t fully understand.
So to make up for my shortcomings, I will urge to wait until the quietest hour in the night and listen to this: