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The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree (Cover Artwork)

The Mountain Goats

The Mountain Goats: The Sunset TreeThe Sunset Tree (2005)
4AD Records

Reviewer Rating: 4
User Rating:


Contributed by: greg0rbgreg0rb
(others by this writer | submit your own)

I don't know how to get into this review. John Darnielle is a wordsmith of a tremendous nature and I know that I cannot describe his music in words as eloquent. I will try my best to describe his new album without drooling all over myself. Yes, I am obsessed with the Mountain Goats. For those who.
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I don't know how to get into this review. John Darnielle is a wordsmith of a tremendous nature and I know that I cannot describe his music in words as eloquent. I will try my best to describe his new album without drooling all over myself. Yes, I am obsessed with the Mountain Goats.

For those who don't know the Mountain Goats, their songs from 1992-2004 were fictional. They were 2-minute narratives recorded, usually onto a boombox, using such detail and sung with such passion that you could not help but connect and feel for the characters. Themes like traveling appeared often in the "Going to…" song series, and some characters reappeared, such as in the doomed couple in the "Alpha" song series. But after 2003's Tallahassee wrapped up the "Alpha" couple's story, Darnielle started focusing on his own life's stories. 2004's We Shall All Be Healed dealt with some sleazy characters he knew earlier in his life, and now he takes a look at himself. His stepfather and former abuser died in the winter of 2003, and this event started him on his way to examining and telling the story of his childhood and teen years, to later become The Sunset Tree.

On label 4AD's website, Darnielle explains: "I've put off writing about this stuff for years," he says, "because I'm a little squeamish about milking my own trauma for art, and getting good songs rather than cry-fests from these experiences is a really excruciating process. And also because my stepfather was still alive." It is refreshing to hear something like that from a musician in this world of overdramatic teenage emo-rockers singing of their broken hearts. And here is a guy who actually does has a good story to tell, and has the narrative capacities to do it well.

Gigantic introduction aside, this is a great album. Not perfect, but great. I feel the overall sound is closer to Tallahassee than We Shall All Be Healed because it gravitates toward the gentler approach, while the last album was full of drums and distorted vocals. Only three tracks on this album utilize a full drum kit, and even then it tends to be subdued. Piano plays a prominent role, and cello is abundant and often at the forefront.

Like any good batting order, 3-4-5 on this album packs the biggest punch. "This Year" tells the best story on the album, about a teenage Darnielle out drinking with his girlfriend, returning home knowing full well that his stepdad will be waiting there full of rage. "I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me" really says it all here. "Dilaudid" takes a much darker tone in a completely cello-driven tune. It is actually the only Mountain Goats song I can think of that has no guitar whatsoever (minus of course his Casio tendencies). "Dance Music" tells of John's childhood escape: music. In the sunniest melody possible, Darnielle tells of one particular incident

I'm in the living room watching the Watergate hearings / While my stepfather yells at my mother / Launches a glass across the room straight at her head / And I dash upstairs to take cover / Lean in close to my little record player on the floor / So, this is what the volume knob's for / I listen to dance music, dance music."
This theme reappears again on "Hast Thou Considered The Tetrapod." Here Darnielle wakes his stepfather up with his music, and as he is receiving a beating, all he is thinking is that he hopes his stereo doesn't get broken.

Another favorite of mine is "Lion's Teeth," a lurching, evil tune pushed along by the tom-filled beat and electric guitar. It's the most rocking song on the album and contains the scariest of the stories. I'm trying to piece together the story between the facts and the metaphors, but it seems it is about a young Darnielle going on the offensive against his sleeping stepfather, after which he realizes he is in way over his head and that "There is no good way to end this." "Love Love Love" picks up the later part of the album with one of the cheerier numbers and a great melody.

After so many albums and an estimated 400 songs written about fictional characters, it is weird to be able to picture Darnielle himself, in a younger form, in these situations. I think this will be a dividing point among fans, but personally I am all for it and I think it gives the stories a greater impact. Musically, I don't think this his most consistent album, with the second half dragging a bit. I also liked the more rocking tunes on We Shall All Be Healed and wish this one had a few more songs like those. This score is given in comparison to older Mountain Goats releases and not as a flat score, because while I give it only an 8, it will definitely find its way into my end of the year list.

 

 
People who liked this also liked:
The Clash - London CallingThe Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta!Off with Their Heads - HospitalsJawbreaker - 24 Hour Revenge TherapyThe Mountain Goats - Get LonelyThe Lawrence Arms - Apathy and ExhaustionAgainst Me! - is Reinventing Axl RoseThe Weakerthans - Reunion TourNeutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The SeaThe Weakerthans - Left and Leaving

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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
INDW (June 18, 2008)

For me, this doesn't hit the hights of Tallehasse - a truly fantastic album - but this is still a fine piece of work. moving, touching and honest.

bannedinct (May 15, 2005)

"so this is basically a livejournal put onto a cd?

this kinda crap is crap"

oh my god.

please stop talking.

Anonymous (May 12, 2005)

Obviously you're not a golfer.

BV (May 11, 2005)

Well, this guy's got my number.

But if we're talking cliche speech, isn't your point defeated by your use of the "____ is the new ______" device?

Anonymous (May 11, 2005)

"_____ is more punk than most so-called punk because _____ is passionate" is the new "Can someone please tell me what the fuck emo is?"

PS Mountain Goats > your favorite punk band, but not for the reasons that BV thinks. He's retarded.

ElVaquero (May 11, 2005)

Is it just me or is greg0rb actually obsessed with everything?

Anyways, I remember Aesop Rock mentioning this group in an interview so I better check it out.

BV (May 11, 2005)

Anybody who thinks this is crap is an idiot. MGs write some of the most sincere, honest lyrics around. More punk in their raw emotion than most of these so-called punk bands.

greg0rb (May 10, 2005)

Not sure about J Church, but Atom and His Package covered three MG songs on Redefining Music.
-Greg

Anonymous (May 10, 2005)

Didn't J Church cover a Mountain Goats tune at some point?

unconcerned (May 10, 2005)

Definitely in my top 10 for the year...

Well written... Amazing...

Best singer/songwriter that I can think of

Anonymous (May 10, 2005)

One of the best albums of the year, and one of John Darnielle's best.

recordings (May 10, 2005)

so this is basically a livejournal put onto a cd?

this kinda crap is crap

Imposs1ble (May 10, 2005)

I love this album.

ubershep (May 10, 2005)

goddamn, I love this band.

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