Mountain Goats Heap on the Heresy
There are three major eras of Mountain Goats time: B.T. (Before Tallahassee), A.T. (After Tallahassee) and A.S.T. (After The Sunset Tree). In 2002, with Tallahassee, John Darnielle, the driving force behind the Mountain Goats, abandoned his kitchen four-track recordings for a fuller studio sound, waving goodbye to a few purist fans in the process. 2005’s The Sunset Tree saw a burgeoning of the Goats’ fan base and the latest offering in this epoch of the band’s prolific career, Heretic Pride, out February 19, is a strong album that grows slowly on the listener.
Opening with the single “Sax Rohmer #1,” a reference to the early 1900s British spy novelist of the same name, Heretic Pride has a catchy, stompy start. Darnielle shows right from the start that he can still craft small, bizarre psychodramas in three and a half minutes.
“San Bernardino,” the album’s softer second track, captures the emotions of an unmarried couple giving birth at a cheap highway motel in the lyrics, “and flaming swords may guard the Garden of Eden / but we consulted maps from earlier days / dead languages on our tongues.”
The song, which was arranged by cellist and former Mountain Goats collaborator Erik Friedlander, is one where the production and additional instrumentation really coax Darnielle’s voice and narrative along.
Friedlander is not the only past participant in the Mountain Goats’ music to reprise his role — Peter Hughes donates some base strums, Franklin Bruno lends his pianist fingers, Rachel Ware Zooi and Sarah Arslanian of the Bright Mountain Choir contribute backing vocals and John Vanderslice dabbles in production.
Another less-obvious collaborator is anti-folk musician and cartoonist Jeffrey Lewis who vividly illustrated the liner notes and is currently on tour with the Mountain Goats. The notes provide an intriguing look into Darnielle’s process and his esoteric sources of inspiration, but take something away from the fan’s thrill of delving into the exegesis themselves.
While many tracks on the album invite positive comparison to Darnielle’s earlier work —standouts include “Lovecraft in Brooklyn,” “Michael Myers Resplendent” and the eponymous “Heretic Pride” — the album is not as coherent as past output. Also, a number of songs in the middle of the album for some reason can’t attain any emotional gravity (such as “So Desperate” and “New Zion”).
Despite this inconsistency, Heretic Pride has a lot to offer, and only a truly fickle fan won’t give the album the patience it deserves.