Here\’s something everyone can relate to, unless, of course, you\’re a soulless, music-hating, dick. Every so often, you discover a new band and involuntarily go head over heels for them. Something about them strikes a chord (ha!) and, suddenly, you find yourself searching out not only their music, but their biographical information. When I was younger, this would happen fairly frequently and with much greater intensity than it has recently. Actually, this whole phenomenon has followed the same arc as that of a lifelong drug addiction — as time passes, highs become less frequent and less intense — but that\’s a different essay all together.
During a slow, sweltering, random afternoon at the beeatch this past weekend, some of the restless younger folk took a trip to the store. Two cousins, Fancy Paul, and I piled into a car and rolled into town to buy some cabbage for slaw, ice, and all the Sierra Nevada at Winn-Dixie. As we sweated East down Hwy. 98, Paul dialed up, on one of the cousins\’ iPods, No Children by The Mountain Goats.
So, am I the last one to the Mountain Goats party? Because I sure feel like it. Not that I was out there looking for them or something like them and simply missed, but I was surprised I had no recollection of ever having heard of them. Despite not getting any radio or TV play over the past decade, the John Darnielle-fronted project has recorded over 400 songs, and circled the globe endlessly. Considering their prolific output, I feel like a jackass describing them like they\’re brand new, but to me, they\’ve been around for less than a week.
(Warning: Cheesy analogies and review-speak ahead.) Their sound is grounded and melodic alt-indie-folk on the surface, with Darnielle and his accousitc guitar at the forefront and Peter Hughes and a small group of backing musicians filling in the foundation. At first listen, the music is not challenging, ground-breaking, or even very innovative, frankly. But that all stops mattering after Darnielle starts singing. He is nothing short of a lyrical savant. No Children comes from 2003\’s Tallahassee, an album about a fictitious North Florida married couple who seem hellbent on destroying each other. (Is it an odd coincidence that I was in North Florida the first time I heard it? You betcha.) Darnielle manages to convey the frustration, confusion, and rage that accompanies a relationship in decline, but–and this may be a product of my own cultural filter–he also manages to capture the humorous depravity of two Floridiots screaming at each other. It\’s like the Coen brothers doing an episode of COPS.
Last night I did some snooping around and started to scratch the surface of the Goats\’ massive discography. In his latest effort, The Sunset Tree, Darnielle exorcises some old personal demons from his childhood, but he does it in a way that avoids the \”LOOK AT ME!! I\’M HURTING!!\” aesthetic so common in the exercise of exorcising. Also, I discovered that Darnielle has a blog called Last Plane to Jakarta. I\’m telling you, the internets are awash with valuable information. \”But, Tony, when can I see them live?\” Unfortunately, they just played Atlanta in April. They\’re currently on the West Coast, though not that you jerks in Portland should get excited. They played the Doug Fir Lounge this past Monday.
And so, I will leave you with the same entry point I had last week. Listen to the music. Listen to the lyrics. I dare you to not smile cynically. Then go buy more of their stuff.