John Darnielle has been recording as Mountain Goats for more than a decade--often alone, often into a boom box, and often. Just really really often. Word on the indie street is that, with his 12th record, Darnielle's lyrics have taken a sharp turn for the allusive: On lines like "If anybody comes to see me/Tell 'em they just missed me by a minute/If anybody comes into our room while we're asleep/I hope they incinerate/Everybody in it" the vitriol sure is free-floating. But to typecast a previous Mountain Goats album like the 2002 benchmark Tallahassee as simple neo-realism is a slight, advertent or not. Sure, the descriptions and images with which Darnielle documented a relationship's downward spiral were so vivid you practically wanted to call the cops before things got violent. But they also hinted at a context beyond the borders of the song--you know, the way most workshopped short stories only pretend to.
Darnielle's accompanists also suggest as much as they state here. Christopher McGuire's drumming and Peter Hughes's bass flesh out the rhythms that Darnielle's strumming has always implied. Their playing is occasionally almost unnoticeable--which makes it all the more striking when McGuire locks in with Darnielle for a closing flourish on "Slow West Vultures," or when Hughes augments the two-chord "Heroes"-indebted vamp of "Palmcorder Yajna" with a walking bassline. Of course, as always, the chief pleasures are lyrical: Darnielle matches conversational speech to melody so acutely that he uncovers the music inherent in the metric pattern of his lines, allowing his lyrics to lead the tune from syllable to syllable. (Read aloud the title of the lead track from 2002's All Hail West Texas, "The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton," and the syllables practically guide you to the melody.) His precision and economy give the lie to the notion that the messiness of life demands a messiness of art.
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