With a career spanning over two decades and a discography with over a dozen entries, there is plenty to take in when we talk about The Mountain Goats. For the better part of the last 20 years they have managed to always produce new and enticing music, to the point where nothing ever sounds the same. In large part this has a lot to do with frontman John Darnielle, who serves both as a songwriter and as a novelist. His latest endeavor with his band “Goths” proves that his lyrics provide depth and pack a punch.
The Mountain Goats formed back in 1991. Originally based out of Claremont, California, the band now finds themselves based out of Durham, North Carolina. Blending indie-folk, rock and lo-fi sound has been the staple of the band’s sound. Even from their first studio album “Zopilote Machine,” the band never struggled with standing out and having their own unique sound. Now the band would keep most of the original lineup, and release an additional 14 studio albums. Now just two years after 2015’s “Beat the Champ” we have the 16 studio album from the band, “Goths.”
“Goths” is a 12-track record that clocks in at around just short of an hour long. The first take away people will notice about this album is the lack of guitar. Bass, percussion and horns are the main driving factors of this album from start to finish. If the name of the record is any indication of the subject matter, it deals a lot with Goth culture and the experience of growing up with it. Some tracks deal with what it is like for those to fade from the limelight. It is a mixed tone for sure when most tracks carry disco, and jazz elements over the vocals. Needless to say, there is a lot to digest when listening to this album.
Musically, “Goths” does a good job at not sounding like a typical Mountain Goats’ album. The album opens with what is undeniably the best track on the whole record “Rain in Soho.” This track is moody, atmospheric and layered in with all the synths and horns, creating one of the best feels on the record. Then you get tracks like “Paid in Cocaine” and “Shelved” that both have a lot of the same layers but sound almost entirely different. That is something common with the whole album, when not everything flows into one another so well as most would like. Separately sure, tracks have no problem standing out, but there is a lack of a cohesive flow. “Goths” becomes a record that almost requires multiple listens, as melodies often don’t stick on the first try. You will come back time and time again to listen and it eventually grows on you.
Lyrically, Darnielle excels in the songwriting department here. While his vocals are more laid back and subdued than in previous efforts, it fits with the overall theme of the album. Tackling the Goth culture is no easy feat for sure, and Darnielle makes it personal and yet relatable in a way. With tracks like “Abandoned Flesh” and “Wear Black,” it is easy to understand where the band is coming from with this record. With “Wear Black” being more of a tribute to anyone who has experienced the culture at any point in their lives, it is easily one of the most relatable songs on the records, mostly because you don’t have to dig through the metaphors and imagery of the lyrics to truly understand what this track is about. “Goths,” like any other record from the band, has a depth to it, whether you choose to dig that deep and understand it is up to you. It will take more than a single listen at least.
Should you listen to it?: Maybe
There is a lot to appreciate with what The Mountain Goats went for with “Goths.” At the same time, it is one of the most different records from the band yet and could be a hard starting point if you have never heard anything from the band before. Tracks like “Rain in Soho” and “Abandoned Flesh” make the album worth listening to, it might be hard for everyone to casually listen to the record unless you understand the band’s style. It does a fantastic job at songwriting and delving into a culture many might not appreciate, but that’s what can be said about this album. Many might not appreciate “Goths.”