An album that pushes indulgence to the limit.
Label: Merge Records
Released: 19th May 2017
John Darnielle remains an American institution, even though The Mountain Goats will forever be held with cautious eyes this side of the Atlantic; a cult band all your favourite bands adore, yet somewhat impenetrable and imposing for casual listeners. ‘Goths’ will do little to change that perception, even if it possesses some whip-smart takes on issues of identity, wrapped up in the story of goth music (yes, really).
The first Mountain Goats album to be recorded sans guitars, there’s a speakeasy jazz vibe to cuts like ‘The Grey King and the Silver Flame Attunement’ and ‘We Do It Different On The West Coast’ that work well with Darnielle’s semi-spoken vocals, even if they feel over-embellished. Combined with a near one-hour runtime, it’s an album that pushes indulgence to the limit.
Yet for all this, Darnielle’s lyricism dazzles throughout. Indeed, ‘Goths’ probably features more words than your average novella, and every syllable serves a considered purpose. From the bright-light pop of ‘Unicorn Tolerance’ to the name-dropping irreverence of ‘Abandoned Flesh’, Darnielle can tell a story packed with humour and poignancy. The latter, which closes the album, charts the career of longstanding cult British band (now bands) Gene Loves Jezebel and is reason enough to stick with ‘Goths’, such is the brilliance of the songwriting.
There’s even enough time for a knowing joke. “I wanna play my guitar,” Darnielle blasts on the rock-opera styled ‘Shelved’, while debating the merits of opening for Trent Reznor. It’s winning stuff from a peerless storyteller who can conjure some astonishingly strong images.
After the critical acclaim afforded 2015’s wrestling-obsessed ‘Beat The Champ’, ‘Goths’ is ultimately a clever move, stepping away from the indie-folk but still leaving Darnielle’s lyrics front and centre. It might be testing at points, but it still possesses many captivating moments. Rob Mair