A bad dream shook me in my sleep

August 20th, 2006

Okay, writing this is pretty much going to slay me, but here goes???


I just don’t know about Get Lonely, the new album by the Mountain Goats.


Without fail, every Mountain Goats album I’ve heard has grabbed me by the heart strings first listen. Perhaps it was wrong to assume this would happen with every album they released, but there is something distinctly different about this one. To begin with, John Darnielle sings a lot of the tracks on the album in almost a falsetto, ala Dinu Limpati’s Bones from The Sunset Tree. One track on an album? Fine. More than one track is honestly not cool. His voice is not what you’d call classic, and that’s partly what I love about it. It’s raw and insistent and so passionate. When he goes for the high pitched, soft crooning, the indie whine turns into an out and out whine.


Man, it is killing me to write this.


One thing I’ve always loved about Darnielle’s song writing is his ability to get straight to the point using beautiful language and amazing metaphor. He can set a scene and portray a feeling more eloquently, succinctly and effectively than almost any other songwriter (and even poet) I’ve heard. He writes so that you can feel yourself there, smell the wood rotting, taste the alcohol, and feel the gut wrenching heart break. I feel like on this one I’m missing the point. The language is beautiful, sure, and speaking on relative terms this album is still amazing lyrically. It’s just that there is no real theme here. I’ve listened to it through 3 times now and I’m not sure of the story he’s telling. There’s an overall feeling of loneliness and missing someone, also being reflective and saying goodbye to ghosts. I guess in context (factoring in The Sunset Tree) this makes sense, and the theme is still there even if it is more subtle.


Maybe the mistake I’m making is to compare this to other Mountain Goats albums. Maybe if I were measuring it against everything else I’ve listened to, or on its own, without having heard any of the others, my feelings would be different. I can’t do that though.


Perhaps, considering where this album falls in the Goats’ catalogue, all this makes sense. The Sunset Tree was the first autobiographical album from a steadfastly non-autobiographical writer. The demons he came to terms with throughout the writing of that album are clear to anyone who listens to it. Perhaps that’s why this album is different – all the pent up anger, and hurt, or whatever it is he had in him, has gone. He’s left with whatever this album is. As I’ve already said, I’m not sure I know what that is yet.


Also different is the fact that this album is named after one of the tracks within. This is decidedly rare amongst Mountain Goats albums. I also miss the liner notes that are usually there – never, ever lyric sheets (because that’s not how Darnielle rolls) but there’s usually some funny little story, or a quote from someone I’ve never heard of, or a shout out to someone who helped him with the album. There’s only this, written around the inside hole of the CD itself -


On the wall there is a calendar. A flight of geese is passing near a mountain lit by moon. I will give up this house also, and his shape. James Krusoe.


I’m late to the Mountain Goats bandwagon, but I can fairly confidently say I’ve put the work in and caught up fairly quickly. I would have loved to see some of his live shows, say, 5 years ago when he would have been playing some of his older stuff because he rarely pulls a lot of it out now. The song that sucked me in in the first place was This Year – it’s a thematic anthem that you can relate to right away, with great story telling and a catchy tune. A lot of my favourite songs of theirs are like this – powerful, lyrically driven tunes that you can belt out at the top of your lungs. No Children for example is equal amounts brutal and beautiful. The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton, Up The Wolves, Cubs In Five, The Recognition Scene, Source Decay. Perhaps this says more about my taste rather than his recent song writing.


What I’m trying to say (less than successfully) is there is only really one song like this on this album. The rest, to me, sounds quiet, understated and meandering. He’s writing from a much less bitter place, which is good for him, but I miss the brutal, acidic lyrics that smack you up the side of the head when you first hear them.


Reading all that back it actually sounds pretty terrible. It’s not, it’s just that I tend to work myself up to sky high expectations when it comes to the musicians I obsess about, and re-evaluating can be tough. It’s definitely not all bad. The two tracks I’d heard before I got the album, Woke Up New and Half Dead, are very good. Woke Up New is beautiful in fact. The title track, Get Lonely, is soft and sad, and I relate to it more than I wish I did. The stand out track for me so far is If You See Light. It’s the most upbeat and musically powerful track on the album, and pretty much blew me away first listen.


Also evident on this album is his extended use of a band. He’s been working into this, ever since his first sometimes straggling band effort on Tallahassee. There were a lot of strings on The Sunset Tree, and again on Get Lonely the strings play a major part of the compositions of a lot of the songs. The cello is glorious on some tracks and the drums play a pretty important role on two tracks at least. I really like what he’s done with the instrumentation this time around.


I’m going to listen to it a lot over the coming weeks and maybe this’ll all change. Also, I’d really like to find the lyrics written down somewhere, so that I can pay better attention – the normal site I go for lyrics doesn’t have them up yet.


I’m a little disappointed, sure, but I’m also relieved about this reaction in a way. After hearing Reprieve for the first time I was worried that the only reason I loved it right away was because of how ridiculously biased I am about anything DiFranco produces. I came to this Mountain Goats album with ears open at least as wide, so it’s nice to know I can still be discriminate about these things.


Having said all of this, given half a chance, I’d still thank Mr Darnielle wholeheartedly. Mainly for how prolific he is – rarely do fans need to wait more than a year for a new album. Also, without fail he writes from a place most other songwriters fail to go – this is the reason I came to his music and the reason I’ll be a crazyfangirl for a long while yet.


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