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THE MOUNTAIN GOATS

★★★

GOING GOTHIC

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By Charlie David Page
14th May 2017

You can never fully anticipate the musical direction of The Mountain Goats. They're full of surprises - the first example being when they released their last album about wrestling, and the second being that it was really, really good. So when they announced their 16th (!) album would be titled 'Goths', it induced numerous whispered theories from loyal fans.

What does that album title mean for the music, exactly? For one, there's no guitar - well, electric or acoustic; it still contains ample amounts of bass. Speaking of, the band's bassist and self-confessed goth Peter Hughes says of this new album: "These are songs that approach an identity most often associated with youth from a perspective that is inescapably adult." Which is to say that not all of the album's tracks are inherently dark in nature, but pay tribute to the maturing members of a niche subset of society while riffing on the ideals and themes frequently employed in post-punk and gothic rock music.

'RAIN IN SOHO' - THE MOUNTAIN GOATS

'Goths' certainly features a caliginous opening with the track 'Rain In Soho'. It's an epic introduction to the album, grim and despondent, rife with a bellowing choir replete with opposition, as singer John Darnielle utters, "No promise sweeter than a blood pact / Nothing harder to go through than a vanishing act / No morning colder than the first frost / No friends closer than the ones we’ve lost."

From here, though, the album lightens substantially - musically, at least - into the realm of soft rock, almost bordering on musak. Following on from 'Rain In Soho', 'Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back To Leeds' couldn't be any more polar opposite, with its perky tune and iconic woodwinds soaring as Darnielle imagines the titular character, Sisters Of Mercy's lead singer Andrew Eldritch, returning to his former banal life.

The band's gothic background is firmly cemented in fact - even Darnielle says he "cut my hair short, dyed it black. I would wear a little bit of eyeliner" with a style that made him look like "a bad undertaker". His experience is highlighted in 'We Do It Different On The West Coast', a glimpse at the goth movement in his belt of the United States told with a sparse assembly of bass guitar, drums and keys.

Not all of the album's tracks are inherently dark in nature, but pay tribute to the maturing members of a niche subset of society.

There are so many references to the culture, from bands etched in stone or long forgotten, to the venues now just distant memories, to the monochromatic dress code; there's an entire song called 'Wear Black'. Much like 'Beat The Champ', this is a passion project for The Mountain Goats - granted, one which is somewhat more sombre and wistful. Even a song with a title like 'Paid In Cocaine', with its nu wave jazz vibe, recalls the tale of one retired musician who now struggles to pay his mortgage: "That's who I was, this is who I am."

Rather than attempt to make a gothic rock album, The Mountain Goats have assembled something of a eulogy for those who lived and breathed the genre, yet whose renown is slowly fading with the passing of time. 'Goths' is a deluge of nostalgia, for a time lost and a culture all but forgotten. It's another startling series of stories from Darnielle and co. - perhaps not as captivating as 'Beat The Champ', but undoubtedly just as stirring.

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FAST FACTS
BAND: The Mountain Goats
MEMBERS: John Darnielle
Peter Hughes
Jon Wurster
Matt Douglas
FORMED: 1991
FROM: Claremont, California
SOUND: Indie Folk / Indie Rock
WEBSITE: Www.mountain-goats.com
FACEBOOK: mountaingoatsmusic
TWITTER: @mountain_goats
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