I want to be honest here. Writing this isn’t easy for me. The Mountain Goats occupy a unique and very personal section in my convoluted, cognitive filing system. The tab reads this: “Music That I Force Down People’s Throats Against Their Will.”
I’d like to think that I perform said music-pushing for the enjoyment of the pushee, but maybe a larger part is for my own selfish peace of mind. It’s like the strange hipster faith that mutual appreciation of music from the short playlist – which is supposed to define the makeup of one’s heart – is indicative of some sort of deeper, existential connection. Anyway, I don’t entirely trust people until I’ve emptied the contents of this folder into their identity.
For example, I have a classmate who refused to listen to the Mountain Goats because of frontman John Darnielle’s voice (which is wonderful but not instantaneously gratifying to casual listening). Undaunted, I used the better part of our class period to letter out the full, brilliant lyrics of “No Children” on both sides of a sheet of yellow engineering paper, which I whisked under her nose. It was a sufficiently overwrought gesture to allow the reprieve of a second listen, which was cut off after about 20 seconds with a curt, “Yeah – you know, I really don’t like his voice.”
Of course, the battle isn’t over. Not the least of reasons being Darnielle’s inexhaustible ammunition supply. Though I usually think of the standard singer-songwriter-types as requiring no more than three or four records of sharply declining quality to “work some stuff out” before overdosing on antidepressants, Darnielle is something quite different. His catalog numbers well into the hundreds of songs, which are inexplicably and consistently well-penned.
The latest release, “Heretic Pride,” proudly exhibits his famously literate, lyrical inclinations and confidently orchestrated arrangements, varying from the organ-backed frenetic rocker “Lovecraft in Brooklyn” to the intimate solo-guitar work of “So Desperate.”
What is different from the last three records is the subject. After the cluster of autobiographical records from the last few years, “Heretic Pride” is more evocative of the short stories like those styled in Darnielle’s glorious “All Hail West Texas” days. These vignettes are more on the side of universality than specific literal reality, but I think this type of storytelling is where the Mountain Goats really come alive, and I’d rank this release as their best since the mind-numbingly brilliant “Tallahassee” back in ’02.
The opener, “Sax Rohmer #1,” immediately kicks my ass with its catchy, emphatic chorus: “I am coming home to you / With my own blood in my mouth.” (Check out the video on YouTube!) But my personal favorite is the clever toe-tapper “Autoclave,” which had me sold with one couplet: “And I am this great unstable mass of blood and foam / And no emotion that’s worth having could call my heart its home.”
Anyway, in the spirit of honesty, I’m not going to tell you to listen to this record simply because it’s great (which it is) or that it’s the most important thing that happened in music, ever (which it isn’t). Just.do it for me. Please.
Jesse Bo Widmark is an architectural engineering senior and a business director for KCPR, San Luis Obispo, 91.3 FM.