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Music Monday: The Mountain Goats, Tallahassee

14 Feb

The Mountain Goats are the perfect Valentine’s Day band.

No, wait, where are you going? I promise it’s true.

Hear me out. And don’t look at me like that …

So, the Mountain Goats – which are actually mostly one dude, John Darnielle – write incredible acoustic music that I find absolutely searing. I don’t know their pre-2002 catalogue and there are recent albums that I don’t like and/or just don’t get, but when they’re on, they’re really, incredibly on. Their best-known album (I think?), The Sunset Tree, is an autobiographical set about Darnielle’s childhood and abusive stepfather which is remarkable in its ability to be uplifting even as it’s devastating (yeah, IDK either, but you should buy that album.)


held under these smothering waves
by your strong and thick veined hand,
but one of these days I’m going to wriggle up on dry land.

But I’m not here to talk about The Sunset Tree, I’m here to talk about Tallahassee. Tallahassee! This album is not autobiographical. It’s all songs about a fictional couple Darnielle writes about a lot, the so-called Alpha couple, a miserable pair constantly on the edge of divorce or drinking themselves to death.

So obviously, it’s the perfect Valentine’s Day album!


I am drowning
There is no sign of land
You are coming down with me
Hand in unlovable hand

Okay, okay, I know that makes me sound a little bitter (I’m not) and single (also not, though it’s not specially relevant). Not that there’s anything wrong with being either bitter or single. I mean without bitter we wouldn’t have lemon, lime and bitters, and that would be so sad! But my point is that that’s not really where I’m coming from: I kind of think this is the perfect album to listen today no matter how you feel about Valentine’s Day. It’s blazing and bright and brilliant and, hey, it has its romantic moments:


There is a shortage in the blood supply
But there is no shortage of blood
The way I feel about you baby can’t explain it
You got the best of my love

And, you know, it’s also a witty album. There are jokes in there; and there’s this song, the one I’ll leave you with, the one which I think probably perfectly describes Edward and Bella’s future. It’s funny, sorta sweet, kinda angry. It’s like if you put Valentine’s Day and Twilight in a blender with some critical thinking about overly dependent relationships and what it really means if your boyfriend likes to watch you think and doesn’t like you hanging out with other people.

And now I’m going to make brownies and sift little icing-sugar hearts onto them. But I’ll be singing “Old College Try” while I do it, so it’s not revolting.

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Music Monday: Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons

21 Nov

I am the worst example of the New Music Generation – you know, the ones that only ever listen to our ipods and maybe the Glee soundtrack, the ones who are killing radio and the concept album. I stopped listening to music on the radio when I was 17, with no little relief; I’m quite sure that my blood pressure is the better for never, ever listening to breakfast shows and afternoon shock jocks. Consequently, however, the music I listen to is a fairly erratic selection of childhood favourites, terrible pop music I was really into at age 15, people I’ve randomly seen live, and things hurled at me by the people around me. This saves me a lot of trouble as a rule, but it means I’m never quite sure whether I’m listening to something that everyone around me loves or that nobody around me has heard of. (I mean, I can guess. Lady Gaga: pretty popular. Rosy Tin Teacaddy: not so much.)

So I was enthusiastically playing Mumford & Sons’ debut album, Sigh No More, for my sister when she rolled her eyes and said, with all the scorn a 17-year-old can muster, “You know they play this stuff on the radio all the time, right?”

It’s like she doesn’t know me at all.

However, I think this album is wonderful, so I’m thrilled to hear that these guys will hopefully be making enough money from their art to continue their career. What I particularly like about it is the way it rewards multiple listens on multiple different layers, and the attention paid to their lyrics. I am a Simon & Garfunkel fan from way back, so this thoughtful kind of songwriting is a special favourite for me; Mumford & Sons’ folky sound is a bit rougher and, of course, significantly more modern, but they share certain qualities. The first time I listened to this album, at school after borrowing it from a classmate, I thought: oh, this is nice and folky, I like that kind of thing. The second time I listened to this album, walking home a week or so later, I heard a couple of key lines – “how can you love what it is that you’ve got/when you took it all from the weak hands of the poor” from “Dustbowl Dance”, “Love that will not betray you,
dismay or enslave you/It will set you free” from “Sigh No More”, and I thought: hmm, maybe there’s something else going on here.

The third time I listened to this album I put “The Cave” on repeat for about an hour, and it was only this time that I began to slowly unpeel the layers of lyricism in this album. The sound, especially vocally, on this album has moments of being fairly raw, but the words are extraordinarily crafted, and I am by nature a word woman. “The Cave” won me over by referencing both the Cave Allegory and Odysseus and the Sirens – in part because it bemuses me somewhat, and it takes a lot of work to sew together a more in-depth interpretation of this song than “it’s definitely about freedom and looking for truth.” (I also like “widows and orphans”, although probability compels me to admit that it’s more likely to be a biblical reference than it is a typographical one.)

At any rate. This is a wonderful album that, despite its fairly consistent sound (another thing M&S share with S&G), still manages to give each song its own identity and keep them from all blurring together. There are a number of stand-out tracks (I’ve already mentioned “Dustbowl Dance” and “The Cave”, and “Little Lion Man” and “Awake My Soul” are also favourites) but there are certainly no duds. Highly recommended esp. if you’re a little bit pretentious, like things with a little folk influence, or dig Dramatic Banjo.

Listen: There are a bunch of great live performances on YouTube including the above from Glastonbury 2010, and the Glastonbury performances are probably the best quality (though they’re all sweating like mofos); it looks like they’re pretty amazing live (I love that version of “Dustbowl Dance”, and I especially love, which is so unusual, that their lead singer is also their drummer. Charming!) Also, I imagine you can buy it all the usual places, Amazon, iTunes, and don’t forget your local shop!