The Mountain Goats: Goths
On 2015’s Beat the Champ, the Mountain Goats’s John Darnielle poignantly wrote about death by the thematic use of his longtime love of skilled wrestling, a sport that theatrically attracts strains between heroes and villains and success and failure. Goths, the band’s 16th album, focuses on the far blurrier boundary separating creative success from failure, because the 50-year-old Darnielle revisits the approach to life, sensibilities, and music fandom that, as a teen, led him to dye his hair black and costume “like a nasty undertaker.”
Though it taps into goth culture’s prevalent imagery, steadily referencing caves, graveyards, and crows, the album doesn’t try to undertake the subculture’s musical aesthetic, other than, perhaps, on the lone darkish and brooding observe, “Rain in Soho.” For the primary time, Darnielle wrote an entire album on piano, filling in Goths’s lush preparations with woodwinds, driving basslines, and jazz drumming, a far cry from the lengthy stretches where the Mountain Goats’s music consisted solely of Darnielle’s voice and acoustic guitar. The broader sonic palette and emphasis on extra melodic vocals present an upbeat tone on an album that never plumbs the morbid preoccupations often aligned with its titular neighborhood; remy deep wave weave instead, it displays on the non-public compromises and inevitable shifts in priorities that include growing older.
The Mountain Goats’s Goths focuses on the blurry boundary separating inventive success from failure.
Darnielle deftly weaves through memories of an impressionable period in his life and its accompanying soundtrack while avoiding the pitfall of nostalgia or sentimentalism for the music of his youth. He manages this feat by approaching the previous indirectly, using fictional narrators, concocting unusual scenarios that contain his favorite goth bands, and taking the liberty to write from their perspectives. The idea that we will by no means truly escape our previous is vividly explored on the bouncy “Andrew Eldritch Is Shifting Back to Leeds,” as Darnielle describes the Sisters of Mercy frontman reconnecting with outdated friends in an unpopular hometown membership, which is succumbing to dust, rust, and mold. In the meantime, “We Do It Completely different on the West Coast” captures the territoriality inherent to various music scenes, advised from an early-1980s perspective when, in line with Darnielle, L.A.’s goth style was more natural than the “batcave” accoutrements found in London, Berlin, or New York.
While the album title-checks pillars of the goth music group, it more usually celebrates the genre’s lesser-identified or nameless working class. Though he sings that Robert Smith may be “secure at his villa in France” and Siouxsie Sioux “had sufficient hits to keep the payments paid” on “Abandoned Flesh,” Darnielle is commonly extra concerned with bands like Gene Loves Jezebel, who let inside acrimony derail their appreciable promise.