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Carolyn Malachi relishes the chase, whether she’s pursuing dreams, love, success, or inner peace. But she seems to want those things for you, too. “I believe in you! You can do anything!” Malachi wails near the end of “Beautiful Dreamer,” an inspirational standout from Gold, her ambitious new album. Malachi’s affirmations can sprinkle a little too much sugar on her songs, but at least she sounds like she means it.

On Gold, Malachi’s first LP since 2009’s Revenge of the Smart Chicks II, she tackles grown-up themes but weirds them up a little bit. In 2010, the singer secured a Grammy nomination with the aquatic “Orion,” which told a story about the love between an astronaut and a mermaid. By comparison, Gold lands closer to the ground, but Malachi hasn’t completely dislodged her head from the clouds.

Gold finds Malachi shrugging at her critics (“Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer”), honoring her grandparents with a jazzy ode to marriage (“All Right”), and scrutinizing a one-night stand (“Don’t”). “Kamikaze” bumps up the age range on a Smart Chicks II favorite, “Organic Soul.” Above a ventilated blend of live drums and watery electric piano, Malachi purrs, “Somehow I keep flying into love, and it kills me.” On “Choose Me,” she trades notes with Virginia singer Muhsinah, adopting an assertive and mildly exasperated tone. If “Kamikaze” nudges, “Choose Me” opts for a jab. She raps: “Dog, put ya little pink thing away/I appreciate the frank, but I’m a Falcor dame.” Wait, Falcor, the huge flying dog in The NeverEnding Story? Let your imagination roam.

Malachi doesn’t usually do literal; she tends to shield the true meaning behind subtle metaphors and carefully crafted narratives. Much like her charitable efforts—which include donating class time to students in East Africa and helping artists in developing countries sell their music—Malachi rarely puts the emphasis on herself. Until now, she’s only offered fragments of her personal life.

Gold represents a breakthrough for Malachi. She reveals more of her private struggles and keeps her eyes trained on the silver lining, like on “Ready for the World”: “I’m going to do great things today, even if nothing goes my way,” she sings. The song may have sprung from personal strife, but Malachi doesn’t sulk—-and she won’t let you get away with that, either.