Mountain Goats, John Darnielle's project, was a bizarre experiment for voice, acoustic guitar and cheap organ whose major career was devoted to concept albums such as Zopilote Machine (1994), Sweden (1995), and Tallahassee (2003), mostly about disintegrating relationships, which were as lyrically ambitious as musically humble.
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Mountain Goats e` il progetto di John Darnielle, cantautore Californiano armato
soltanto della sua voce e di una chitarra acustica che ha alle spalle una
discografia sterminata (anche se poco su CD).
Taboo VI (Shrimper) e The Hound Chronicles (Shrimper, 1992) sono le
sue prime cassette,
l'EP 7" Songs For Petronius (Shrimper, 1992) il primo vinile.
Ai tempi delle otto canzoni dell'EP 10" Beautiful Rat Sunset
(Shrimper, 1992) si trattava di un quartetto.
Per l'EP 7" Chile De Arbol (Ajax, 1993), con l'arguta Fresh Berries For You,
era rimasto solo Darnielle. Gli fece seguito
l'EP 7" Philyra (Theme Park, 1994).
Presto al suo fianco rimase soltanto la bassista Rachel Ware.
Randy Newman venne chiamato in causa per la cassetta
Transmissions From Horace (Sonic Enemy, 1994), in particolare per le melodie
di Star Dusting, Beach House e Alpha Desperation March.
Hot Garden Stomp (Shrimper, 1993) e Taking The Dative (Car In Car Disco) sono
le cassette successive.
The double-disc The Hound Chronicles & Hot Garden Stomp (Shrimper, 2012)
collects two of the early cassettes.
Zopilote Machine (Ajax, 1994 - 3 Beads of Sweat, 2005)
fu la prima opera maggiore, un lungo
concept dedicato a due amanti che stanno per lasciarsi (vi compare
Going To Georgia).
Gli EP 7" Songs About Fire (Cassiel, 1995) e
Songs For Peter Hughes (Sonic Sound, 1995)
continuano ad agitare i suoi fantasmi interiori, forti soltanto di
voce, chitarra acustica e organo Casio.
Il singolo 7" Orange Raja Blood Royal (Walt, 1995) con l'arrangiamento
del violinista Alastair Galbraith, segna l'approdo allo stile maturo.
The Only Thing I Know,
Hatha Hill e Raja Vocative sono canzoni al confine fra il lo-fi dei
Sebadoh e il country anemico dei Palace Brothers.
Darnielle ha nel frattempo stretto amicizie importanti: il
cantautore neozelandese Alastair Galbraith,
Peter Hughes (Nothing Painted Blue),
Allan Callaci (Refrigerator).
L'EP Nine Black Poppies (Emperor Jones, 1995), con Cubs In Five
e Stars Fell On Alabama,
Going To Utrecht e I Know You've Come To Take My Toys Away,
ne risente l'influenza positiva.
Sweden (Shrimper, 1995), un altro concept
ambizioso (19 canzoni, fra cui Snow Crash Killing Song) lo consacra ai
vertici del cantautorato indipendente.
Nothing For Juice (Ajax, 1996 - 3 Beads of Sweat, 2005)
snocciola alcune delle sue migliori
canzoni: Alabama Nova, Moon And Sand,
Going To Scotland,
Going To Kansas.
Rachel Ware lascia durante le registrazioni dell'album.
Per Full Force Galesburg (Emperor Jones, 1997), che comprende
sedici canzoni, non meno acustiche che in passato, si scomodano
Alastair Galbraith e Peter Hughes (Nothing Painted Blue), mentre la sua
tradizionale spalla, Rachel Ware, e` per lo piu` latitante.
Il disco straripa di delicati pastelli come Snow Owl e
Evening In Stalingrad, e Darnielle talvolta veste i
panni del tradizionale menestrello folk (Masher).
Nulla di spettacolare, ma certamente una voce sincera e appassionata.
Un piccolo capolavoro c'e`, comunque: Weekend On Western Illinois, che si
avvita in maniera epica su frasi di chitarra e organo.
Protein Source Of The Future (Ajax, 1999),
Bitter Melon Farm (Ajax, 2000) and Ghana (3 Beads of Sweat, 2002)
compile early singles and rarities.
Featuring a completely new line-up behind Darnielle,
The Coroner's Gambit (Absolutely Kosher, 2001) offers the first new
material in three years, seasoned with haiku-like lyrics
("Baseballs travel further when you watch them fly")
that enhance the metaphysical quality of these gothic stories.
Family Happiness is the highlight.
All Hail West Texas (Emperor Jones, 2002) is yet another treasure chest
of witty and catchy folk-pop ditties for voice and guitar.
John Darnielle is in splendid form as he fakes a
reprise of Freewheelin'-period Bob Dylan in
The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton,
as he borrows a posture and a melody from Cat Stevens
(Riches And Wonders),
as he howls the serenade to Jenny in a tremulous tone,
The album boasts an impressive parade of tuneful vignettes, occasionally
bordering on Jonathan Richman-ian greatness (Pink And Blue,
Fall Of The Star High School Running Back),
occasionally echoing epic tones of the Sixties.
It goes to Darnielle's credit (to his guitar playing, humble albeit forceful)
that the songs do not sound spare and thin,
even though the backing band is only one instrument.
The only flaw of this album, as with all of Darnielle's albums, is that he
does not let his genius fly. Songs are truncated after two minutes, revealing
only a glimpse of what they could be in the hands of a more cunning songwriter,
stories focus on the... story, rather than soaring into metaphysical odes.
Check Blues In Dallas for evidence of what a little leeway can do.
The talent is indisputable. Give him a producer and he will become a star.
Tallahassee (4AD, 2003), a concept album about a couple and their
disintegrating relationship, is orchestrated with the help of
multi-instrumentalist Peter Hughes and played by a real band.
This when all but hung up the boombox whose lo-fi sound had characterized
the previous albums.
While Darnielle still serves old-fashioned folk vignettes
(Tallahassee, International Small Arms Traffic Blues) and
bluesy dirges (The House That Dripped Blood),
a more assertive style (First Few Desperate Hours)
sometimes pulsing like a Velvet Underground boogie
(Southwood Plantation Road, See America Right),
a deeper melodic content Alpha Rats Nest),
and lightly psychedelic touches (Game Shows Touch Our Lives,
Old College Try, with echoes of Bob Dylans' Blonde On Blonde)
make it a much more accomplished collection than the previous one.
The epic pessimism of No Children
and the virulent roots-rock of Oceanographer's Choice
recall Warren Zevon.
Darnielle has finally topped his debut.
Now that Darnielle has disposed with any youthful inhibition, Mountain Goats
albums sound like proclaims of hard-fought self-determination.
Alas, We Shall All Be Healed (4AD, 2004) is also unusually un-musical:
Darnielle shouts rather than sing, and the band provides a generic loud-rock
accompaniment. There seems to be precious little integration and coherence
(and inventiveness) in the playing.
Several punkish sermons recall the Mekons or Billy Bragg.
The Quito is perhaps the best of this emphatic batch.
But it is telling that the most dramatic moment, Mole, relies on simple
declamation and sparse, psychological accompaniment;
and another highlight is the bard of Slow West Vultures,
who displays the calm existential pensiveness of a Paul Simon.
Also more successful is the closing tragicomic ode,
Triumph of Pigs That Ran Straightaway Into The Water, that shifts to
a sardonic tone.
Despite a few major additions to his canon,
Darnielle may have invested too much on the lyrics, and forgotten that
there is a difference between journalism and music.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Paolo Latini) |
Protein Source Of The Future (Ajax,
Melon Farm (Ajax, 2000) e Ghana (3 Beads of Sweat, 2002)
i primi singoli e qualche rarità.
The Coroner's Gambit (Absolutely Kosher, 2001) offre nuovo
dopo tre anni, stagionati da liriche simil-haiku ("Baseballs travel
when you watch them fly") che ampliano la qualità metafisica
storie gotichethat enhance the metaphysical quality of these gothic
All Hail West Texas (Emperor Jones, 2002) è un altro
nascosto di lucide e orecchiabili miniature folk-pop per voce e
John Darnielle è in forma smagliante quando simula una
periodo Freenwheelin' di Bob Dylan in The Best Ever Death
Band In Denton, quando prende a prestito postura e melodia da
(Riches And Wonders), quando ulula la serenata a Jenny
tono tremolante. Il disco racchiude un'impressionante
quantità di vignette
melodicissime, di quando in quando reminiscenti della grandezza di
Richman (Pink And Blue, Fall Of The Star High School
e occasionalmente facendo eco ai sapori dei Sixties. È merito
(al suo stile chitarristico, umile ma vigoroso) se le canzoni non
anche se la band di supporto è trattata come un solo
L'unica pecca di questo disco, come in tutti i dischi di Darnielle,
che l'autore non lascia libero il suo genio. Le canzoni sono
due minuti, rivelando solo scampoli di quello che potrebbero essere
mani di un più scaltro, storie che si basano su... storie,
che perdersi in odi metafisiche. Si ascolti Blues In Dallas
cosa un piccolo margine di tempo può fare.
Niente da dire sul suo talento. Solo dategli un produttore, e
Tallahassee (4AD, 2003), un concept album su una coppia e
realzione alla deriva, è realizzato con l'aiuto del
Peter Hughes e suonato da una vera e propria band. Mentre Darnielle
a dispensare vignette folk d'altri tempi (Tallahassee,
Small Arms Traffic Blues) e momenti più blues (The
Dripped Blood), uno stile più assertivo (First Few
Hours) a volte pulsante come un boogie dei Velvet Underground
Plantation Road, See America Right), un più
melodico Alpha Rats Nest), e leggeri tocchi psichedelici
Touch Our Lives, Old College Try, con echi del Bob Dylan
On Blonde) rendono questo lavoro ben più consistente del
Il pessimismo epico di No Children e il virulento roots-rock
Choice ricordano Warren Zevon.
ha finalmente eguagliato il suo debutto.
Ora che Darnielle ha messo da parte ogni inibizione giovanile, gli
dei Mountain Goats sembrano proclami di dura autodeterminazione.
We Shall All Be Healed (4AD, 2004) è solo un
Darnielle grida più che cantare, e il gruppo provvede a dare
rock dimesso. Sembra esserci poca integrazione e coerenza (ed
modo di suonare. Molti sermoni punk ricordano i Mekons o
Bragg. Quito è probabilmente la miglore tra queste
enfatiche. Ma ciò vale a dire che il momento più
Mole, poggia su mere declamazioni e un accompagnamento spartano
e un altro highlight è il bardo Slow West Vultures,
la calma esistenziale di un Paul Simon. Ancor più successo ha
tragicomica posta in chiusura, Triumph of Pigs That Ran
The Water, che scivola in un tono sardonico. Al di là di
aggiunta al suo canone, Darnielle deve aver investito troppo nei
aver dimenticato che già molta differenza tra giornalismo e
The autobiographical concept
The Sunset Tree (4AD, 2005) is a much more sincere and heartfelt work
than its predecessor. The touching arrangements (particularly
Erik Friedlander's cello) are never overbearing, the pace is solemn without
being pompous, the melodies are simple without being trivial.
The cozy, homey touch is reminiscent of Tallahassee,
and songs such as You Or Your Memory, Dance Music and
This Year (one of the catchiest) and closer
Pale Green Things
find their space in this habitat without much struggling.
Despite the deeply affecting stories that he relates,
traumas doe not exist in these songs. What emanates from them is, instead,
almost a sense of peace, quiet and balance. This is an album about "leaving
behind" teenagehood, not about it.
The EP Babylon Springs (4AD, 2006) contains Sometimes I Still Feel The Bruise.
Get Lonely (4AD, 2006), featuring Franklin Bruno, Peter Hughes,
multi-instrumentalist Scott Solter, cellist Erik Friedlander and drummer Corey Fogel, continued the autobiographical strand but in a more spartan setting.
Far less cathartic, austere and shocking, this installment of Darnielle's
chronicles is devoted to rather trivial events in a rather subtle way
After a trilogy of disturbingly autobiographic works,
John Darnielle's topics turned more extroverted on Heretic Pride (4AD, 2008),
so that the lush arrangements of the new course actually started making sense.
In The Craters on the Moon,
How to Embrace A Swamp Creature,
Lovecraft in Brooklyn
(replete with sobbing guitar, loping chorus, visceral shouting, dissonant sounds)
are Darnielle at his atmospheric-storytelling best,
but the most intriguing piece is Erik Friedlander's creation
San Bernadino for voice and cello.
Tuneful opener Sax Rohmer #1
and title-track Heretic Pride
even unleash a rocker's energy (not least thanks
to the rhythm section of drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Peter Hughes), but
Darnielle remains first and foremost a chronicler of private apocalypses.
The "Biblical" concept
The Life Of The World To Come (4AD, 2009), whose songs have titles
taken from the Bible, indulges in apocalyptic atmospheres and laconic tales,
sometimes penned by piano and strings instead of the usual guitar.
For a burst of emphatic and aggressive preaching in Psalms 40:2
a bit of uplifting pathos in the catchy serenade Genesis 30:3
(a` la Don McLean's
one is treated to a funeral of elegiac tunes such as
(that nonetheless hides an anthemic riff worthy of Jimi Hendrix),
Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace
and Deuteronomy 2:11,
as well as to odd rhythmic hybrids such as Hebrews 11:40,
Matthew 25:21 and Romans 10:9.
This erudite work is fascinating as a concept but less than rewarding as a
The EP Black Pear Tree (self released, 2009) was a collaboration
between John Darnielle and Kaki King.
Moon Colony Bloodbath (self released, 2009)
was a collaboration
between John Darnielle and John Vanderslice.
John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats and Franklin Bruno of Nothing Painted Blue joined forces in Extra Glenns and released Martial Arts Weekend (Absolutely Kosher, 2002).
Years later they changed name in Extra Lens and released Undercard (Merge, 2010). Both were largely irrelevant.
The trajectory of the Mountain Goats
(still the trio of Darnielle, bassist Peter Hughes and Superchunk's drummer Jon Wurster)
towards overproduced pop music continued
via All Eternals Deck (Merge, 2011). While still a folk album at heart,
the sound was a state-of-the-art multi-layered delicacy, mixing
doo-wop and Donovan-esque folk in High Hawk Season, evoking
Van Morrison's soul shuffles with Damn These Vampires and launching into cowpunk frenzy in Estate Sign Sale.
Darnielle, a former psychiatric nurse, is the most psychological of the singer-songwriters of alt-country, and proves it again on
Transcendental Youth (Merge, 2012), another bleak fresco of a humankind
that struggles to survive:
loners, criminals, homeless people, drug addicts, paranoids and madmen.
The mournful White Cedar is a typical Darnielle elegy, but the emotional
core of the album lies in the more energetic songs:
Cry for Judas, that sounds like an agitated Van Morrison,
the rocking Harlem Roulette (a tribute to singer Frankie Lymon before he died of an overdose),
the demonic country-rocker Night Light scarred by a strident keyboard distortion,
and especially the catchy, pounding, piano-driven power-ballad The Diaz Brothers, halfway between Elton John and Warren Zevon.
Matthew White's horn arrangements, that are the second voice of many songs,
shine especially on the jazzy closer, Transcendental Youth.
Beat the Champ (Merge, 2015) tries a bit too hard to impress.
Matthew White's horn arrangements are more intrusive than decorative in
the over-the-top ragtime of Southwestern Territory, although
they provide a comic counterpoint to Foreign Object.
The country-rocker du jour, The Ballad of Bull Ramos, sounds
forced and amateurish,
the would-be-anthemic upbeat The Legend of Chavo Guerrero just doesn't get to the point of being anthemic,
and the band even unleashes the punk-rock Choked Out to wake up the listener. In vain.
Piano and drums craft the jazzy Fire Editorial, which, technically
speaking, is the most accomplished song.
Goths (2017) added Matt Douglas (keyboards and woodwinds) to the line-up,
and removed the guitar from the band. Ostensibly a tribute to British goth-rock
of the late 1970s, is a completely different album from the previous two.
It opens with the lugubrious, emphatic Rain in Soho, a summary of
rock melodrama with echoes of
Nick Cave and
and vocal effects that evoke both the Mamas & the Papas and a medieval monk choir.
But then the album gets lost in user-friendly muzak that has little "goth"
the folk-rock of Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back to Leeds,
the boogie-pop of Unicorn Tolerance
the neo-soul of Wear Black
and the closing soul-jazz fanfare of Abandoned Flesh.
The swinging Paid in Cocaine at least boasts an evocative atmosphere
a` la Randy Newman.
Darnielle is also the author of novels such as
"Universal Harvester" (2016).
The next album of the Mountain Goats,
In League With Dragons (2019), was a massive step backwards.
Ostensibly a concept devoted to fantasy and crime fiction,
it lacks musical depth and results in a rather monotonous experience,
with the lively Byrds-ian Passaic 1975 to wake you up halfway before you
fall asleep again, and the bombastic prog-rock of Sicilian Crest
linking this concept to the early magniloquent concepts of the 1970s.
Songs for Pierre Chuvin (2020) was a self-tribute to his "boombox" days, the era before Tallahassee, before the glossy arrangements of the
2010s. The songs feel improvised and deliberately unfinished. One is a worthy
addition to his canon: Their Gods Do Not Have Surgeons.
Getting Into Knives (2020) is a varied collection that rangers from
saloon-style soul-rock (Get Famous) to
piano elegies (The Last Place I Saw You Alive), and from
lounge jazz balladry (Tidal Wave) to ebullient country-rock
(standout Corsican Mastiff Stride); but hardly groundbreaking or
notable in any particular way.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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