The Mountain Goats
Following the great response to his last ‘guest review’ we asked the legendary Roy Peak to give his musings on The Mountain Goats latest release GOTHS
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the Mountain Goats latest, titled interestingly enough, Goths, what with all the hype I’ve been hearing about this particular album. I will admit to being quite often jaded when I hear everyone else raving about something. C’mon, it can’t be THAT good, I usually say to myself and most times I’m correct. Few things are, in fact, THAT good. So is Goths THAT good? Well, I can’t honestly say its “THAT” good but it is pretty damn intriguing and definitely worth the time it takes to really delve into an album. (You know—more than a handful of quick spins. Listen to it over and over for a few days, then keep pulling it out every week or so until something comes along and takes it place.) So, yeah, it’s not THAT good, but it’s still pretty damn good. This is their sixteenth album, after all. I would hope that after recording that many albums they’d have it all figured it out, this not being their first rodeo and all.
The Mountain Goats are known for purposely releasing lo-fi recordings in the past, but not this time. What the Mountain Goats have crafted here is an album of polished, singular, smart pop songs no matter what genre you wanna call it. John Darnielle, Mr. Mountain Goat himself, writes simple melodies with intelligent, layered lyrics akin to Paul Simon (when he’s not showing off) but much more tongue in cheek. Joe Jackson comes to mind also, but even with Jackson’s jazz leanings, he comes off more rock ‘n’ roll than the Goats. A sure sign of a good songwriter is the ability to write a good song (not just any song, but a GOOD song) about pretty much anything. Darnielle writes plain, detailed analysis’ about his subjects in a matter of fact style that’s a welcome respite from all of the songwriters who get too cute with their rhymes and tend to overwork their veiled symbolisms. So I have to compare Darnielle to Ray Davies and even Ric Ocasek here, fellow songwriters who have the ability to make the mundane and commonplace seem fairytale-like. The song structures on Goths remind me a bit of the John Carver Band with their openness and solid back beat, but the Mountain Goats don’t use the guitar tunings and dual acoustic interplay of the John Carver Band.
Which brings up the next point. There was a recent article I saw online remarking that guitar sales were down across America so I found it interesting that—besides bass guitar—no guitars were used on this album. No guitars. Instead we have loads of lush jazzy touches on these understated arrangements such as Rhodes piano, synths, and woodwinds—not exactly true jazz, just “jazz-like.” Interesting that they would write and record an album about goth music and characters and then encapsulate it all within smooth jazz pop underpinnings but it somehow works, especially on the songs “Rage of Travers,” “We Do It Different on the West Coast,” the quite funny “Unicorn Tolerance” and—to me anyway—the most fun song on the album, the witty and relevant “Wear Black.” The album closes with “Abandoned Flesh” which wryly references how bands like Gene Loves Jezebel never achieved the acclaim of such goth greats as Robert Smith of the Cure and Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees. I must commend Darnielle and his Goats for the brave choice of subject matter. Nothing here smacks of being unsympathetic or comes across as mere novelty, mostly because of Darnielle’s solid song crafting and the bands unwillingness to play outside of the confines of the musical box they built for themselves, which serve to bind the songs together with a strong framework throughout. I’m noticing a trend towards making “albums” again instead of just singles—even though many critics have stated that albums, as a whole, are dead—and I’m hoping this trend continues for quite a while.
Released May 19th 2017