The backstory behind Pursuit of Momentary Happiness is almost unbelievably excessive – with tales of the band’s Oli Burslem tracking back and forth across the globe in an attempt to make the album he heard in his head – working to acquire extra band members, couching in studios, and eventually leaving himself without a permanent home in the process. Thankfully for Burslem the resulting album’s breadth speaks well to the hassles he endured. Along the way Burslem connected with Jason Pierce of Spiritualized, who contributes to some tracks and lent his home studio to the cause. The involvement of Pierce dovetails nicely with the idea of making something almost too big to fail. The artist, whose own epic was notoriously hard to tour, given the necessity of orchestras and choirs, seems like the perfect foil to push another into embracing their inner grandiosity.
To that merit, Pursuit can’t be accused of sounding economical or sparse by any means. It is, in fact, the kind of big rock epic usually reserved for bands who’ve paid half a decade’s worth of dues. The album starts out on fire, albeit a fire that sounds like it was borrowed for a job interview at their eventual landing pad, Third Man Records. Opener “Bellyache” is full of the ratcheted staccato that marks much of Jack White’s delivery, feeling like it’s got someone else’s hands on the tiller. Thankfully, though, this affectation dissipates as quickly as it arrives with Burslem aiming for the kind of orchestral space occupied by his mentor Pierce welded to the dirty psych blues that slips through the veins of Night Beats and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The band wades through some Bowie-isms (most notably on “Words Fail Me”) further cementing their pursuit of an album that’s next to impossible to fit into the room, however once they find their balance between weightless and reckless, the grand plans find their payoff.
Reaching for the ineffable is commendable, but POMH often works best when its reaching not for the stars, but rolling in the dirt. When the band cranks the coils on their diesel-bred guitar scorch, they light up. The heat off of Blinded By The Lies is enough to melt skin. “Fried’ and “White Male Carnivore” are similarly breathless, boiled, and bent. The band feels most comfortable when they’re cobbling together a beast built of feedback and bile. When properly positioned the uptempo fare makes the ozone-scraping opulence of the other tracks feel like a balm. YAK are strapped to a scrap metal spaceship gazing back at the arc of the horizon. After the intense tumult of breaking through the atmosphere they give the listener a little time to breathe, an the scope of Pursuit begins to come into shape. The white-knuckle parts leave the deepest scars, but its nice to feel that breeze on the wounds in the end.
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