The Mountain Goats - Goths (Cover Artwork)

The Mountain Goats

Goths (2017)

Merge


The Mountain Goats are one of the most prolific bands in history, as Goths is the band’s 16th studio album in their 26-year career. And in 16 albums, they’ve never sacrificed quality. Pumping out one every one to two years (with two exceptions,) the band has gone through a lot of changes over the years, and the only constants in the band have been singer/songwriter John Darnielle and his (usually acoustic) guitar. Darnielle and his guitar have sometimes been all that make up the Mountain Goats. So I have to say, I was surprised and somewhat skeptical when he announced that Goths would be recorded entirely without guitars (unless you’re going to be super technical about it and point out that the bass is technically a guitar). The result, however, showed that I had nothing to worry about, as Goths is so masterfully arranged and orchestrated that the guitars aren’t missed at all.

The theme of the album, as you might have guessed from the title, is goth music and culture. It doesn’t appear to be one larger story like some other Mountain Goats albums, but rather a series of 12 short stories with a common theme. The ultimate irony of the album is that, as Darnielle sings about goths, the album is musically a fusion of jazz, funk, pop, and rock, never getting into any actual goth music, with two exceptions. The first of those exceptions is the exciting, driving first track, “Rain in Soho,” which certainly comes across as dark, foreboding, and gothic, even if it doesn’t really resemble any of the musical genres associated with goth culture. This is followed by the cute and playful “Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds,” the album’s first single, which imagines the Sisters of Mercy frontman as the prodigal son of his hometown, as the music bounces with bass and xylophone music in a sound that is the polar opposite of anything one would hear from Sisters of Mercy. “Unicorn Tolerance” is one of the most pop/rock tunes on the album, and the chorus is just as funny as the title of the song. “Wear Black” is almost a gospel tune as Darnielle sings about the importance of wearing black in all situations. “Shelved” is the other time the music actually steps into gothic territory, as this song about a musician fed up with being categorized as a goth artist and considering switching careers culminates in a Cure-esque bass and keyboard heavy post-punk sound. “For the Portuguese Goth Metal Bands” lyrically works off of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave while musically and vocally becoming one of Darnielle’s most delicate performances, with beautiful results. Finally, how do the Mountain Goats close out the album? With “Abandoned Flesh,” a jazzy lounge number in which Darnielle simply tells the story of forgotten goth band Gene Loves Jezebel using information gathered from their Wikipedia page. You can tell he’s using their Wikipedia page because he actually mentions it at one point in the lyrics. But rather than making fun of Gene Loves Jezebel, the song becomes an inspiring tribute to those who tried but never achieved the full extent of their dreams.

Goths is probably the Mountain Goats’ funniest album to date, and their lightest in tone. Yet as much as the Mountain Goats keep an ironic tone throughout the album, the love that Darnielle shows for its subject matter is completely unironic. He genuinely does seem to love the Gene Loves Jezebels of the world, and for someone who’s never put out a goth album (including this one) he is certainly a very knowledgeable fan of the genre. Musically, the album is such a complex jazz arrangement, with so many different instruments, that there’s never a dull moment. My first time through listening to this album I spent most of the time with my jaw dropped in amazement of how constantly interesting and amazingly fresh every new track was. I mean, if I had to pick a least favorite song on the album, it’d have to be “The Grey King and the Silver Flame Attunement,” but even that song I can’t claim to dislike because it has the wonderful chorus of “I’m hardcore, but I’m not that hardcore,” which could be the title of my memoirs.

The fact that the Mountain Goats have been so prolific hasn’t cut into the quality of their releases. The albums they’ve put out that don’t get talked about as much, like Get Lonely and Transcendental Youth, would still be career highlights for a lot of other indie rock bands. But Goths doesn’t go at the bottom of the list of Mountain Goats releases. Goths is on par with the best of the Mountain Goats’ catalogue like The Sunset Tree and Tallahassee. It lacks the darkness of those albums, but that should hardly be seen as a sign of quality. i>Goths is an artist trying something for the first time and exceeding all expectations at it. Goths is the once lo-fi artist pulling off not just high quality but elaborate production. It basically sounds like La La Land, if La La Land was about goth music instead of jazz music. Goths is destined to be a standout release in a career that’s already full to brimming with triumphs.