Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Transcendental Youth: the Mountain Goats

I've succumbed to my friends' pressure, and decided to blog mainly about music. And what better way to start then by reviewing the new Mountain Goats album? They're totally not my favourite band or anything...

So, the album starts with Amy aka Spent Gladiator and the line "Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive", and I had to suppress a cheer. That, my friends, is how you start an album. The song itself is what you could call typical of the new non-boombox tMG, Darnielle's voice is as distinctive as ever ("just stay aaaaaaaLIIIIIIIIIIIIVE"- no joke, this is what happens). And, like all the great Mountain Goats songs, it has lines that sound absolutely ridiculous taken out of context: "I hide down in my corner, because I like my corner". Track two, Lakeside View Apartments suite is driven by a simple piano structure, and it's not often you'd talk about a drop in a Goats song, but what happens at 1:04 seconds in comes pretty close. The song also contains my favourite line on the album; "John, John, still playing postman after all these years", which just pleases me so much- the idea of John (the often sole member and song-writer of the band) carrying letters and messages from his characters and turning them into songs is just plain AWESOME. One criticism, "lakeside view for my whole crew" seems a bit cringey- does anyone actually say crew?

Cry For Judas, the lead single. What can I say? Dat bass. Dem horns. Ok, I'm done. Another self-destructive-but-life-affirming song, but it's a good one. And the lyric about "broken machines" will forever remind me of the "twin high-matience machines" from Next Year and given my love for The Sunset Tree, there was no way I could dislike this song. It's a difficult act to follow, and I don't think  Harlem Roulette quite manages it- although it is an effing brilliant title, and I like that jittery country-esque guitar. A lot. I think that I can't get into it because of its overt Americanism- "even awful dreams are good dreams, if you're doing it right"- really?

White Cedar is the next song, and really not my favourite- a slow paced piano song, which just aren't my thing- and religious references in the song aren't my favourite either ("you can't tell me what my spirit tells me isn't true- can you?"- No, I can't, but I can tell you that you don't have a sprit. Sorry, atheist fo' lyf).  Moving onto Until I am Whole, and again, I don't like it- another slow, piano driven song. If I didn't love tMG so much, I'd be tempted to skip it- All that being said, I saw John in concert with anonymous 4 (a female vocal quartet), and they fleshed out this song beautifully- so it's not all bad, and I really don't want to dislike it, okay?

Everything is redeemed as soon as the buzz of Night Light kicks in. "I am a mandolin" is a genius metaphor for stress, and the fact that "Jenny" makes an appearance makes the album for me (try and tell me it's not the same person who showed up on a yellow and black Kawasaki on All Hail West Texas and I will come for you). And the sense of unease created is real, and scary. "Plug a night light in, because the small dark corners have got designs on me".

And then things really get going on The Diaz Brothers piano-driven, poppy, it's something you couldn't imagine tMG doing five years ago, but that doesn't mean it isn't brilliant. If you were looking for somewhere to start with tMG, you just found it. "MERCY FOR THE DIAZ BROTHERS" is something that will be yelled out at their concerts for a long time to come. After that, Counterfeit Florida Plates was always gonna be a bit of a comedown, a song about mental disintegration and paranoia, but the fact that "look for the cars with the counterfeit Florida plates" works as a hook is a testament to Darnielle's songwriting ability. In Memory of Satan is in a similar vein to Counterfeit, a song about fallen people, whether they be villains or not (this song is seemingly told from Satan's perspective) is unimportant. Spent Gladiator 2 brings us back to Amy's story right at the start of the album, and this acoustic song is unnervingly similar to something off The Coroner's Gambit (in a good way), and the return of "just stay alive" is welcome after the slow, sobering In Memory Of Satan.

And then it ends- the almost jazz of Transcendental Youth sees it out in style, "shroud ourselves in the cosmos, let the music play" is what we are urged to do as we "sing, sing high, as the fire climbs"- and I'm still more than happy to do that. Despite it's faults, I'd say Transcendental Youth is my favourite Mountain Goats record since Heretic Pride (2008). Both Spent Gladiators, Cry for Judas, Night Light, and Transcendental Youth are worth your time, and tMG fans can find something to love on pretty much every song.

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