If you've ever come in contact with our hip hop reviewer HHG you'll know it's probably not something you want to happen on a daily basis. He knows his stuff but he's a snob and thinks hip hop's the only music, not to mention his uncontrollable temper and borderline chauvanism. He's a valid member of the Chimp team but most of us here try not to have much to do with him for reasons already mentioned. So you can imagine my disappointment when his hulking frame approached me in the Chimp canteen one day last year. Standing there stinking of weed he asks, " Yo, Bear dude, who the fuck is this John Darnielle?"
Turns out his narrow field of musical experience was momentarily widened when The Mountain Goats frontman guest starred at the end of the recent Aesop Rock album. Much as I resent Darnielle for inadvertently bringing me into contact with my skunk soaked colleague it's clear that last years collaboration has opened the flood gates on Darnielle's own sphere of musical experience and brought out a thrilling surge in volume, tempo and excitement to this bands work.
Darnielle has always expressed a masterful penchant for storytelling, in few words he can evoke oceans of emotion, the slightest turn of phrase and he can explain a feeling or situation that you've been trying to pin down your whole life. When we last saw him he was struggling with solitude in the aftermath of a breakup in 2006's desolate Get Lonely. It's clear from the first drum stick count ins that the volume has picked up here but don't think for a minute that Darnielle is using this volume to express a new found lust for life. He might have addressed his romantic troubles since Get Lonely exclaiming in the album opener "I am coming home to you" but he follows it "with my own blood in my mouth." This new surge in musical arrangements serves more to express his heightened sense of fear and impending doom. The sorrow from 2006 has grown into taut anguish. On Lovecraft In Brooklyn he admits, "I woke up afraid of my own shadow, like genuinely afraid."
At the heart of this record lurks paranoia, tension and violence seen most effectively in the two songs that form the records backbone both in form and theme. In The Craters On The Moon builds with tight, drumbeat like guitar strums and heightened strings to a thunderous crescendo while Lovecraft In Brooklyn is a switchblade-wielding powerhouse prediction of death and destruction. This is contrasted in songs like Autoclave and the delicate So Desperate, which both show this songwriters continuing vulnerability.
Whether he's gently plucking, violently thrashing or soaring on great orchestral waves this record shows a refreshing array of musical expertise. How To Embrace A Swamp Creature employs sparkling jewels of instrumentation that glisten around Darniell's lyrics like looming rocks in the dazzling sunlight. Another reason for this renewed rise in tempo could be that Darnielle has more company on this record. Get Lonely was a stark portrayal of a man alone while here we have complex string arrangements (San Bernardino) and airy female vocals (Marduk T-Shirt Men's Room Incident) all joining together to create a far richer landscape than the ones inhabited in the past. This is undoubtedly The Mountain Goats most accessible record to date but it sacrifices none of the qualities that made the other albums. Darnielle is a very human song writer, weather he's using himself as the subject or creating complex characters to play out his view of this experience we call life he casts a light over this experience and though this reveals things we don't want to see they serve to enlighten us and inform us that little bit more about the human condition.
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Texas Rose, The Thaw & The Beasts
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