The Mountain Goats - Getting Into Knives (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Mountain Goats

Getting Into Knives (2020)

Merge Records

On their latest album, Getting Into Knives, The Mountain Goats sound like a band. That’s not to diminish their previous efforts. In the past, Peter Hughes, Jon Wurster, and Matt Douglas did a great job filling out the songs John Darnielle wrote. This is the first album where their individual personalities shine through in the studio like they do during live performances though. That, most likely, is due to the album being recorded live in one room at Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis, Tennessee. While the album doesn’t take on a rockabilly or psychobilly feel it is also the same room where The Cramps recorded their masterpiece Songs the Lord Taught Us.

The song quality here is great, especially when you consider that Songs for Pierre Chauvin was released in April of this year, and In League With Dragons came out only a year before that. While John Darnielle hasn’t reached the recorded productivity of Rob Pollard, if only because he’s better at self-editing, he has to be amongst the more productive songwriters of the past several years.

One aspect of this album that stuck with me was how guitar heavy it felt in some areas. While all The Mountain Goats albums, aside from Goths, feature guitar it feels like it was given more room in the mix here. While it is certainly possible these moments standout more after the solo boom box recording used on Songs for Pierre Chauvin, I really feel like there was also a new dimension to the band’s overall sound opened up as well.

Topically, this album deals with aging while touching on the mundane nature of life and feelings of regret that come with it. While not as unflinchingly personal as The Sunset Tree and lacking the overall narrative of Tallahassee, Darnielle’s lyrics still suck you in. They do this by reminding you of some joyous aspect of your life or leaving you completely gutted. One would think that some two decades into a recording career John Darnielle would start running short on great lyrics, but he only seems to grow and mature as a lyricist with each passing record.

While this whole album deserves a few listens, I find myself returning to “As Many Candles As Possible”, “Bell Swamp Connection”, and “Picture of My Dress” most regularly. It’s worth noting, the organ work on “As Many Candles As Possible” adds an excellent layer to the song. This shouldn’t be surprising, as Charles Hodges is the organist on the track, for those of you who can’t place the name he can be found on most Al Green recordings.

To characterize this as their best album would be difficult. For me We Shall All Be Healed will be my gut wrenching favorite. But, there’s a lot of good here. The band’s personality has never shown through like this in the studio before. Hopefully, this is something that continues on future recordings. Which, if John Darnielle’s output this year is any indication, we should be listening to sometime next year.