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The Mountain Goats

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The Mountain Goats
Get Lonely
(4AD)

John Darnielle's demonstrated a facility for scenes fraught like severed high-tension wires, spewing sparks and slivering in unpredictably. After singing of alcoholic couples, anxious tweakers and his own rocky relationship with his stepfather over the last three albums, Darnielle takes a break from high drama with Get Lonely.

Fueled by quiet reflection and slow, simmering longing, the new disc is a ruminative late-night drive on an empty highway with the wind in your face. (In fact, that's the setting for "Cobra Tattoo.") The music is understated and of a different tone than the lush sophistication of the last two John Vanderslice-produced albums, which is appropriate since ambient composer (and Vanderslice main man) Scott Solter handles production here. Even Darnielle's lyrics feel somewhat muted, subordinating themselves to the songs instead of filling them with images and sentiments. The album's dreamy ambience is populated by pretty vistas and scenery, most notably the redemptive "In Corolla" and "Wild Sage," which finds the narrator hitchhiking "along the highway where the empty spirits breed/ Wild sage growing in the weeds." Sounds and words hang in pregnant air, haunting like ghosts.

Sure, this pensive mood is less immediately entertaining than squabbling drunks or familial powderkegs, but this is an album to be sipped and savored. Details like Eric Friedlander's cello knifing in and out of the parched "In the Hidden Places" emerge with each listen.

But Darnielle hits the album's peak when he temporarily switches gears, turning "If You See Light" into a could-be outtake from 2004's We Shall All Be Healed:Bustling and hyperactive, the track is dominated by clanking and crashing background percussion, calliope organ and galloping lyrical paranoia ("When the villagers come to my door/ I will hide underneath the table").

But that's transient: Moody and a little distant, Get Lonely lingers in the room long after the spinning has stopped.

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