The Mountain Goats are back with their 19th (yes 19th!) album. John Darnielle is back with the best diction in music. And don’t worry regular fans, the brushed snares are back too.
Recorded at Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis, Tennessee, the band have soaked up more than a few influences from their swampy Deep South surroundings. The piano and saxophone on The Last Place I Saw You Alive and the subtle strings on Wolf Count perfectly exhibit the band’s wonderful tendency to grow and learn.
It has ups and downs. Sad songs and fast ones. But what sticks out most is their remarkable storytelling ability. Every track is a vignette, fascinating and pleasing in its own right. Somewhere out there, is a sadistic English teacher considering Picture Of My Dress as a close reading. Get Famous is a perfect pop song and fantastically bitter. The Great Gold Sheep is a lovely, yet scathing reflection on mortality. Corsican Mastiff Stride is just really fun. Greatest Hits compilers won’t have to look much further than this album.
Darnielle’s occasional staccato delivery can grate but the smooth, smooth music is a perfect balm. That’s not to cast Matt Douglas, Peter Hughes, and Jon Wurster as backing musicians though. They feature amongst a raft of guests and collaborators, most notably Charles Hodges, who played organ on Al Green’s genre-defining hits and gives Rat Queen a fantastic punch. Together they compose a wonderfully varied and textured odyssey, on every track. If this album has a flaw it’s that there isn’t an instrumental.
This album might just be The Mountain Goats’ Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Each song is a gem and although there is little to unify the tracks into a thematically or musically consistent album, the sheer majesty of its sparkle is more than enough to satisfy. It’s unclear what “Getting Into Knives” actually entails but given the brilliance of this album, every band should try it.