Album Illegal Leak of the Week: Heretic Pride, The Mountain Goats
posted by January 23 at 10:05 AMon
For years, I thought John Darnielle, better known to most as The Mountain Goats, had recorded his earliest albums in a department store. Albums like All Hail West Texas sure sound like it—you can practically hear the flourescent lights of a JCPenney employee bathroom hum as Darnielle goes on a tear about “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton.” The boombox part of the story is true—unmistakable, really—but the college buddy who turned me on to “the band” mixed up the rest of it; Darnielle merely bought the boombox at a department store, then took it home to record.
But that mythos stuck in my head, especially when I first saw Darnielle in concert. He looked like a middle school science teacher, hair cropped and small glasses reflecting stage lights as he approached the microphone and meekly greeted the crowd. And then his face reacted like a middle school science experiment, red and tightening with every crazed, nasal scream, all alone on that stage. The JCPenney nutjob lived again.
So I unfairly listen to the latest Mountain Goats album, Heretic Pride, not in search of his usual, exemplary lyrics, but his unfiltered rage—the kind that builds while, say, restocking toilet seat covers. His continued push toward fidelity sees him take steps on this record toward the new-folk stylings of The Decemberists (strings, keys, and I could’ve sworn I heard a mandolin and harpsichord), something that runs clearly in contrast to my inaccurate mythos—as does the meek female chorus in “Marduk T-Shirt Men’s Room Incident” and the title track’s lyrical use of hippie fauna. Jasmine and honeysuckle? Dude.
Sure, Darnielle’s lo-fi aggression is on the decline. But the guy’s still generally too good a wordsmith to deny—“I am this great unstable mass of blood and foam / and no emotion that’s worth having could call my heart its home,” he mutters in “My Heart’s an Enclave.” And he still knows when to unleash his neurotic howls, most notably by the end of the gradual climber “In The Craters On The Moon,” when the narrator—wracked either by persecution or a failed relationship, guess it could go either way—finally gives up and explodes: “In the declining years of the long,” short pause, “WAR!” Ultimately, these moments don’t come often enough, resulting in an album that comes off as little more than “solid.” Sorry, Darnielle. Go mop up aisle four.