The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle—who once noted that his narrative inspiration is Joan Didion's famously incisive novel Play It As It Lays—often seems like a storyteller who also writes music. Last year's The Sunset Tree, Darnielle's come-to-Jesus conversation with his abusive stepfather, was an emotionally urgent album that derived much of its brilliance from heartbreakingly candid descriptions of a teenage kid using music to wall himself off from his toxic home life. On the just-released Get Lonely, Darnielle downshifts from unvarnished anger to weary resignation in order to explore the end of a relationship. More than a breakup record, Get Lonely is a meditation on the quotidian ennui of sudden, unexpected abandonment—rather than Play It as It Lays, Darnielle has instead crafted a companion to Didion's ode to loneliness, The Year of Magical Thinking. "Woke Up New," the album's standout track, struggles with the altered rituals of daily life: "The first time I made coffee for just myself/I made too much of it/But I drank it all just 'cause you hate it when I let things go to waste," Darnielle sings, before repeatedly asking, "What do I do, what do I do, without you?" (Um, make less coffee?) Aside from that song and a few others, however, the album suffers from a musical sameness and lyrical navel-gazing that will be all too familiar to anyone who's ever spent time with someone who just got dumped. Even the video for "Woke Up New" is a solemn affair—there's Darnielle, sitting glumly at his kitchen table, drinking the aforementioned (really large) cup of coffee. Between the simple musical arrangements and a sometimes monotonous delivery, it can be hard to tell where one woeful ballad ends and the next begins. After the swashbuckling, raw feel of his previous album, Darnielle has crafted a calm, meditative work that could easily show up on a Starbucks sampler. Darnielle, coffee drinker, might appreciate that.
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