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Clip: Sure-Footed Mountain Goats

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  • Carl Zimring
    Thanks to Tom Herman for finding this article. -cz Sure-Footed Mountain Goats By Ivan Kreilkamp John Darnielle releases his music under the name the Mountain
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2004
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      Thanks to Tom Herman for finding this article. -cz

      Sure-Footed Mountain Goats

      By Ivan Kreilkamp

      John Darnielle releases his music under the name the Mountain Goats,
      perhaps to deflect any expectations about a sensitive singer spilling his
      guts.

      "I play an acoustic guitar, but I am not one of those guys with an acoustic
      guitar," he's said, further explaining, "I play the kind of punk rock music
      that has existed since the time of the great painters in the caves at
      Lascaux."

      Darnielle spent the 1990s creating an endless stream of no-fidelity
      records -- his discography lists 30-odd releases since 1991 -- mostly
      recorded with just an acoustic guitar and a Panasonic boombox. In 2002,
      however, he raised his profile by releasing "Tallahassee," a brilliant
      concept album about an alcoholic marriage on the rocks. It had a producer at
      an actual studio, and came out under the storied major-indie 4AD. That
      "Tallahassee" was probably his finest recording to date doesn't necessarily
      mean Darnielle was wrong to hold out so long before updating his production
      values. It just means that the time was right for him to give his vivid
      stories and characters a shot at a slightly larger audience.

      Like "Tallahassee," "We Shall All Be Healed" (produced by John
      Vanderslice) retains Darnielle's longtime strengths as a songwriter but
      gives the lyrics a much more varied aural context, featuring violin, piano,
      swirling guitars, the crash of a bottle breaking and other sound effects.
      Although Darnielle's simple recording methods and prolific output have
      linked him to indie-rock artists such as Guided by Voices' Robert Pollard,
      better analogies would include such mordantly witty and literate songwriters
      as Randy Newman and Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (Darnielle admits to
      being a major Steely Dan fan). He may sing over a strummed acoustic guitar
      in a nasally earnest voice, but he's definitely not a folkie.

      For one thing, he attacks the guitar with such aggressive energy that it
      becomes a kind of percussion device. For another, he eschews confessional
      verse and sincerity, instead crafting spiky dramatic monologues with little
      apparent relation to his own experience.

      "We Shall All Be Healed" appears to be a concept album, too: this time, a
      chronicle of life during wartime where spycraft, surveillance and shadowy
      figures in uniform serve alternately as metaphors for love and as reminders
      of a seemingly apocalyptic moment. "The signal is always totally
      unreadable," runs one line. "We comb through the carpet for clues," says
      another. These might refer to a love affair gone wrong, but when Darnielle
      starts singing about "guys in biohazard suits come to keep your pretty
      things from danger," the backdrop begins to seem at least as geopolitical as
      interpersonal.

      Part of the still-misunderstood brilliance of Steely Dan's 1970s records
      lies in the unresolved tension between their insinuatingly catchy music and
      their darkly cryptic lyrics. Darnielle's songs here pull off a similar
      trick. He has said, "For me, the music is there to sort of help slip the
      words under people's doormat."

      (To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000
      and press 8171.)




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