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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
The Mountain Goats
The Sunset Tree
4AD

Rating: 7.5/10 ?


April 26, 2005
You're saying to yourself, didn't the Mountain Goats just have a release about this time last year? And the year before that? And earlier in that same year?

The answer to all these questions becomes an increasingly bewildered yes. Such is the inevitable distinction of an intriguing songwriter, John Darnielle, the main man behind the Mountain Goats who is part throwback musician and part personal storyteller.

On the Mountain Goats website, the group is credited with having 415 songs, not including the most recent 13 that comprise The Sunset Tree. Most, if not all, were written by Darnielle. The site also lists the band's impressive discography - 10 7"s, 6 cassettes, 19 10"s/CDs/12"s, about 30 appearances on compilations and 8 extra side projects. Often, years for this band have been marked with the efficiency of more than one release, as in 2002 when four full length releases appeared, including breakthrough album Tallahassee.

Rooted in Darnielle's hyperactive writing method and musical aesthetic is a lo-fi essence. Such a style was bred from his early days of intimate recording on a department store cassette recorder. By de-emphasizing effects and instrumentation, Darnielle gradually stepped into a role of competent songwriter. Likewise with The Sunset Tree, the scenery is so barren of hooks and effects that one is naturally introduced to a compelling album-long storyline.

This is not to say that the album is void of a full sound, as the surrounding cast includes veteran players Peter Hughes (bass, vocals, guitar), Franklin Bruno (piano, guitar), Alex DeCarville (drums), Scott Solter (keyboards) and Eric Friedlander (cello). Additionally, Darnielle is just as noted for his folk-infected, rhythmically intense acoustic guitar as he is for his wiry vocal set.

It is the casual, truth-be-told lyrics, and the way they are boldly sung, that gives The Sunset Tree its most overwhelming sense of identity. A central theme revolves around the environment of the writer as a youth, incorporating experiences occurring mostly around his childhood home. Stories include past relationships ("Dilaudid"), his mother and sister ("Lion's Teeth") and stories of other individuals that are distant from his current life ("Friends who don't have a clue/Well-meaning teachers" in "Broom People").

But the individual that secures the most attention is Darnielle's stepfather, who he describes as an angry, feared man. In "Dance Music" he vividly recalls, "I'm in the living room watching the Watergate hearings/While my stepfather yells at my mother/Launches a glass across the room straight at her head/And I dash upstairs to take cover." But the true message is in the lines that follow: "Lean in close to my little record player on the floor/So, this is what the volume knob is for/I listen to dance music, dance music."

The mood of the album is full of personal situations - bad and good, uniquely uplifting and depressing - but it is these resolves of each situation that take the album's messages to new heights. The Mountain Goats find a way to bounce back from the psychiatrist-worthy lyrics with strong, vibrant but subtly crafted compositions. Darnielle comes off as an emphatic but less theatrical Dan "Destroyer" Bejar-type troubadour, and the band as an equally driven, lo-fi, Americana/rock outfit.

On The Sunset Tree, the group's genuine recounts and heartfelt music are their most valuable assets. If the story ends unhappily - as it often does - they don't romanticize the ending, but instead move on and find a reason to play the next song. And with the Mountain Goats, one thing is certain: there will be a next song, and then another, and ten more after that.

Reviewed by Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other reviews by Josh Zanger

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