Sound Advice: The Mountain Goats with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (July 1)

The Mountain Goats support their latest album, 'Goths,' at Riverbend Music Center with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

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click to enlarge The Mountain Goats - Photo: Jeremy Lange
Photo: Jeremy Lange
The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats’ newest album, Goths, does not set out to sound like something ravers would expect to hear at an underground club where everyone is dressed like they’re in The Matrix. Goths comes from a very intelligent songwriter who went through an influential Goth phase during adolescence but never fully committed. 

John Darnielle is that very intelligent songwriter. He has an ability to polarize grim subject matter with often-upbeat instrumentation courtesy of The Mountain Goats. His talent as a lyricist is a result of his keen attention to detail in crafting complex literary narratives inside danceable Indie Rock songs. By including simple set pieces to describe the scenes in which his characters interact, so many unspoken details can be appreciated as a result.

“Nobody wants to hear the 12-bar Blues from a guy in platform shoes,” he sings in “Rage of Travers,” a song detailing an outsider’s perspective of Goth culture, someone who is confused as to why their old Blues Rock act isn’t as popular as the new people “dressed like corpses.” All of this is accomplished over a simple Reggae-style bass and drum rhythm, accompanied by Darnielle’s Fender Rhodes electric piano and a soft, almost-too-smooth-to-be-comfortable Jazz saxophone.

“Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back To Leeds” is a song that details the mundane transition made by Goth legend Andrew Eldritch, frontman of The Sisters of Mercy, upon his return home at the end of the band’s recording career. “Stench Of The Unburied” introduces classic synth tones that evoke a yearning for ’80s Goth simplicity, like staring at a black wall with rose-tinted glasses. “Wear Black” is anthemic and could possibly be the best introductory song for new fans. Most of The Mountain Goats’ song lyrics are so dense with articulate storytelling that not many are sing-alongs. “Wear Black” is, though, and Darnielle refuses to oversimplify what being “Goth” entails or how that lifestyle came to be embraced.

From a literary perspective, the lyrics in Goths read like a Raymond Carver anthology. There are brief glimpses into fully imagined worlds where characters — including the likes of The Cure’s Robert Smith and Siouxsie Sioux — behave according to their briefly exposed lives. As writer and performer John Hodgman, a good friend of Darnielle’s, once said on his podcast Judge John Hodgman, “Specificity is the soul of narrative.” 

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