Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Mountain Goats

I first encountered the Mountain Goats when I was handed "The Sunset Tree" for review for Alternative Ulster and it ended up in my top 10 records of 2005. I was struck by their distinctive voice and lyrical style.

If you haven't discovered the Mountain Goats then offers a primer.

Troy Reimink writes:

"During the past few years, John Darnielle has become one of my favorite songwriters. He's the creative energy behind the Mountain Goats, and basically IS the band in the same way Owen Pallett is Final Fantasy, Conor Oberst is Bright Eyes and so on.

Also, Darnielle is wildly prolific -- he's released nearly an album a year since he started recording in the early 1990s -- and consistent, which makes entering the Mountain Goats catalog a bit intimidating. (Though it's hard to go wrong with any of his 4AD output.) Here are a few suggestions:

Whenever I make a mix CD for somebody in the month of January, I include "This Year," which includes the captivating, who-can't-relate refrain of, "I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me":

Darnielle has penned two of the greatest breakup songs in the history of the form. The more approachable is "Woke Up New," which kicks off "Get Lonely" (sort of a breakup concept record) and devastatingly chronicles the narrator's inability to perform basic daily tasks for the first time following a relationship's end:

The real gut-wrencher, though, is "No Children" from the "Tallahassee" record, which kind of makes you wish every day was Valentine's Day, don't it?

Last year's "Heretic Pride" was a typically solid effort that closed with one of Darnielle's loveliest compositions, "Michael Myers Resplendent," a deliriously spooky campfire singalong.

My all-time favorite Mountain Goats song was the first one I ever heard, "Palmcorder Yajna" from the "We Shall All Be Healed" album. There's an eerie, early-REM quality to the lyrics, which give me the chills for reasons I don't really understand. Like this: "I dreamt of a camera pointing out from inside the television / And the aperture yawning and blinking / And the headstones climbed up the hills." Unfortunately, the best video I can find is a cover version by Ben Gibbard:

The band recently released "The Life of the World to Come," a collection of songs each inspired by a single Bible verse. Here's a moving performance of "Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace":

The further back you go into the catalog, the more lo-fi it gets. Of the pre-4AD releases, I'm fondest of "All Hail West Texas," mainly because of "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton" whose chorus -- "Hail Satan!" -- you might agree serves as an interesting counterpoint to the more recent biblical material:

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