Fol­low John Darnielle up the moun­tain

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - SEVEN DAYS - Peter Craw­ley

In the early days, through the 1990s and early aughts, John Darnielle used to take to the stage alone, hold up an acous­tic guitar, and greet the au­di­ence with char­ac­ter­is­tic dry hu­mour: “Hi, we’re the Moun­tain Goats.”

Darnielle has al­ways had a way with words. Bluff and lit­er­ate, pas­sion­ate and wry, with plenty to say and in­nu­mer­able ways to say it, Darnielle used to fill up cas­sette tapes by record­ing songs di­rectly into a boom box, like a lo-fi poet. The guitar, never gen­tly treated, strug­gled to keep up with the brio of the lyrics. These days, his writ­ing has branched out: his sec­ond novel, Uni­ver­sal Har­vester, was pub­lished ear­lier this year to quiet ac­claim, a labyrinthine story of mys­tery and loss in our re­cent pre-dig­i­tal his­tory. But be­ing in a band hasn’t been a gag for many years.

Keep­ing up with the Moun­tain Goats can be a full-time hobby: Darnielle dis­penses songs as read­ily as ath­letes dis­pense sweat. Ini­tially, they were mostly imag­ined nar­ra­tives, but since 2004, and his lu­mi­nes­cent al­bum We Shall All Be Healed, that sto­ry­telling tech­nique has been at­tached to richly per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences of re­cov­ery and in­spi­ra­tions, al­lied to a surge in pro­duc­tion val­ues. He has been col­lab­o­rat­ing with pro­ducer John Van­der­slice, and a per­ma­nent band that of­ten swells with guest stars. In do­ing so, his out­put has gained a fric­tion­less mu­si­cal­ity with­out los­ing the pleas­ingly rough sur­face of his songcraft. You could read the sin­u­ous lyrics for plea­sure or just clap along and whis­tle.

In re­cent years, the mu­sic of the Moun­tain Goats has main­tained a per­sonal per­spec­tive, usu­ally look­ing back, ac­cord­ing to or­gan­is­ing themes. The Life of the World to Come spun 12 con­sol­ing tracks from bi­ble verses; the vig­or­ous Beat the Champ re­lived a child­hood fas­ci­na­tion with vin­tage pro­fes­sional wrestling (a salient theme for to­day’s juiced-up, per­for­ma­tive pol­i­tics); and this year’s al­bum (the 16th) is Goths, in­spired by a 1980s Cal­i­for­nian ado­les­cence lis­ten­ing to the de­li­cious gloom of Bri­tish indie.

But the records have al­ways been fuel for the fire of the live show (they play a sold-out show at Dublin’s But­ton Fac­tory on Sun­day). The best way to lis­ten is to be there, to lux­u­ri­ate in Darnielle’s ex­tem­po­rary witty ban­ter, and tren­chant protest, and mar­vel at the en­ergy of a band when it meets a de­voted, and now ex­panded fol­low­ing.

The Moun­tan Goats will al­ways have more to say.

Darnielle has al­ways had a way with words. Bluff and lit­er­ate, pas­sion­ate and wry, with plenty to say and in­nu­mer­able ways to say it

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