Michael Malarkey was born in Beirut, Lebanon to an Irish-American father and a British mother, who was of Arab and Italian origin. Growing up in Yellow Springs, OH, Malarkey relocated to London where he he studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and while studying acting he begun to immerse himself in music and songwriting, which he found being a form of poetic journalism and an endless journey of self-discovery; however, he may be best known for his role as Enzo in The CW series The Vampire Diaries.
Malarkey’s debut effort Mongrels, which is slated for a September 8, 2017 release through Cap on Cat Records, and the album’s material reportedly reveals his eclectic musical taste while being an exploration of the duality of both his nature and of human nature. Interestingly enough, the album was recorded by Malarkey alongside Tom Tapley and Brandon Bush in Atlanta and while Tabley and Bush assist to provide a subtle Nashville/country vibe to the proceedings, they manage to do so in a way that isn’t the prepackaged new Nashville bullshit about trucks and beer; in fact, they do so in a way that further emphasizes the introspective nature of the material. As you’ll hear on album title track “Mongrel,” Malarkey’s sonorous baritone croon is pared with a sparse and moody arrangement consisting of twangy guitar, softly padded drumming and chiming keys and while to my ears nodding at Pearl Jam‘s “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” Malarkey’s latest single possesses a quiet yearning underneath its deliberate attention to craft.
Directed by Adam Loveday-Brown, the recently released music video for the album title track, follows a lonely and pensive Malarkey sitting in the woods, with notebook in hand, reminiscing on his life and on a lover, who is no longer around. How and why that relationship has ended is left open-ended and to the viewer, but the video portrays the protagonist’s life with his lover as a period of brilliant light, with his cabin being bright and airy and without her, his life is drab. The cabin feels and looks shabby and claustrophobic and yet everywhere her ghost has left an inescapable presence.
Recorded and produced by Malarkey himself in his current hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, alongside Tom Tapley and Brandon Bush, who provide a definite Nashville influence, which is apparent throughout yet doesn’t suffocate the record into the country genre by any means.
The drone of distorted bass discharges the opening notes of the quaintly named Uncomfortably Numb. Reminiscent more of Nick Cave than Floyd with lyrics ‘this transparency is killing me’ and
‘Baby all I’m going to do is bring you down under the water. How long can you hold your bated breath before you drown’, highlighting Malarkey’s uncanny ability to gently bend words and melody.
A firm believer of experimenting in the studio, this attitude opened the door to his peers to support stating ‘you have to serve the song and be open to alter your initial perceptions. The studio is a magical place and spontaneity should be honoured.’ I Just Want You is the light-hearted result of this approach, lifting from the melancholy of Scars to a warm summer smile and is a completely different version to the original demo, whilst Girl In the Moon is almost double the tempo to what was originally penned. Vocally the new album pushes the limits of his previous works, yet maintains the traditional weathered and wounded Malarkey baritone throughout. Mongrels is a Towns Van Zandt dusky country-fused track, whilst Dog Dream is clearly Tom Waits inspired and draws on the style of Everything’s Burned from Malarkey’s debut EP Feed The Flames back in 2014. Feed The Flames was a stripped, minimalistic example of Malarkey’s songwriting but with Mongrels, the progression towards a larger band and filled out sound is clearly underway, whilst keeping the trademark of one of his favourite instrument, the cello, is a prominent feature throughout.