The Mountain Goats


Written by: LL on 15/10/2017 17:48:32

The indie rock/folk band The Mountain Goats formed by singer-songwriter John Darnielle back in 1991 has released a host of albums since its formation. This year's new conceptual release "Goths" is thus the group's sixteenth studio album while my own familiarity with the band only extends to their two most recent ones. To me then, "Goths" is a dark-sounding release for the band which of course has a lot to do with Darnielle's chosen theme for it: a nostalgic look back at his teenage years listening to dark music. In that way, it shares a nostalgic quality with the band's previous outing, "Beat the Champ", that also centered on a world he was fascinated by when he was younger.

The steady indie rock style is accompanied by woodwind and brass sections that peek through everywhere and give the album a very warm sound that together with Darnielle's wryly humorous lyrics makes it a fun and enjoyable listen. Vocally he doesn't often move into sharp tones as he often did on "Beat the Champ", except for on album opener "Rain in Soho" which is also one of the most dramatic and dark songs of the record which makes it stand out favorably overall. Darnielle's story-telling style is what wins the listener over at first and there are references strewn throughout the album to specific songs, singers, and bands associated with goth such as Robert Smith (The Cure), Andrew Eldritch (Sisters of Mercy), Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie and the Banshees) and The Smiths. The titles also echo the theme although the most striking ones like "Stench of the Unburied" and "Abandoned Flesh" are rather calm and uneventful tracks themselves.

The best songs here, then, are the ones that manage to stand out musically from the others while maintaining dark lyrics concurrent with a warm humorous look at goth and the feeling of wanting to be a part of a subculture as a young person. "Wear Black" remains the album's highlight to me for those reasons as it slows down to a ballad with a gospel-like choir backing up the extended refrain of "Weeeaaaar blaaaack" that I can't listen to without a smile. Another noteworthy song is "We Do It Different on the West Coast" with its matter of fact lyrics that along with hopeful, shimmering synths and a driving, light bass successfully makes you feel the excitement of discovering that a new thing is happening that Darnielle is singing about.

"Unicorn Tolerance" is probably the track that stylistically stands out the most from the other songs here as a dreamy kind of pop song that rolls on and on with memorable lines underscored with rustic-sounding flute riffs that makes it all pretty funny although still not in a mocking way. Even though Darnielle's singing style is not very dramatic here, the feeling communicated in the lyrics is convincing and comically tragic, not least during my later favorite section about wanting to be dark but failing a little bit: "Long life to the spiders / safe travels to the crow / love to the ghosts / who taught me everything I know / But I have hiiiigh unicorn tolerance".

All in all, then, the album is an enjoyable dive into a self-conscious look at goth culture and teenage life, and for older fans, I imagine there are more references being thrown around in the lyrics that I just haven't noticed yet. Even though the clearness of the lyrics in the band's sound makes it easy to listen through the entire record and have casual fun with that, over time the songs that stick with me are mainly the aforementioned ones while the rest of the album noticeably slides to the background. The whole combination of portraying a subculture that wants to be dark and serious with cozy indie folk music makes it a fun listen, though, and if any of this sounds like your thing, by all means, listen to the whole album and not just the singles.


Download: Wear Black, Rain in Soho, Unicorn Tolerance, We Do It Different on the West Coast
For The Fans Of: Nick Cave, AJJ, The Decemberists, Mount Eerie, Okkervil River

Release date 19.05.2017
Merge Records

Related Items | How we score?
comments powered by Disqus


© Copyright MMXXII