New York City based singer-songwriter Mark Kraus has experimented with different ideas, bands, and projects for quite some time now. Coming after a five year break, his album The Story of Everything, to be released in August, can be taken as a sort of reawakening. Perhaps it was more painful than he had anticipated. For the most part, the tracks on this album are heartbreaking. Most of them would work well in a movie or television show if played during that moment of utter despair the protagonist has to go through just before something happens to shake things up. Some might describe the album as bittersweet, but the combination of hushed vocals and instrumentation with lyrics that seem fraught with darkness makes it much more bitter than sweet.
Not to say that the tracks aren’t well crafted, quite the contrary. Each one has clearly been put together carefully, each layer honed and meticulously stacked one on top of the other. The main features of all the tracks are hushed vocals, melodies, and instrumentation. The short introductory “The Depths” starts with a only a guitar and vocals, with a cello kicking in about a third of the way through and violins popping in at the halfway mark. The title track begins with a gently plucked guitar and a keyboard echoing in the background. The vocals have also been engineered to echo, albeit less. This is where listeners get their first taste of the dangerous mixture of melancholic sounding hopefulness, seemingly contradictory until one thinks about how an optimist would be after a beating.
The mid-tempo “You and The Boys” sounds a little pop rock with a tambourine adding a certain lightness, but not enough to overcome the album’s underlying woe. The opening line of “The Weekends” sums of the above-mentioned apparent contradiction between hope and despair embodied in this album: “Giving up on drinking/Except for the weekend/And a few days a week/‘Cause I’m going straight/For losing that streak”.
The sadness becomes even thicker with “Eveline”, which also features some of the best composition in the album. “Counterparts” has a little bit of a country flair, with the electric guitar a little over the third mark giving it a unique sound in this album. The lead single, “Put An Old Record On”, is basically a mixture of all of Kraus’ key musical ingredients: hushed vocals, gentle strings, a soft acoustic guitar, and self-loathing lyrics. Despite being uptempo and featuring a harmonica bordering on cheerful, “Little Brother” still manages to be just as bittersweet (with emphasis on the bitter) as its predecessors, as do the last two tracks of the album, “Broke Busted” and “The End of Everything”.
There is a sincerity to The Story of Everything that might keep listeners tuned in. However, the overwhelming and at times crushing sadness inherent in all the tracks might make this an album that can only be listened to in increments, despite the talent behind every aspect of it. Tracks are available for streaming on Bandcamp. More information is available on both his official website and his Facebook page.