BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2008: The Mountain Goats, Heretic Pride (4AD)

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The Mountain Goats: Heretic Pride
BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2008: The Mountain Goats, Heretic Pride (4AD)

Co-produced by John Vanderslice, the typically opaque lyrics by John Darnielle are given space and clarity so as to bewilder and bemuse you by turns. Not many people write songs with titles like Sax Rohmer #1, How to Embrace a Swamp Creature, Marduk T-Shirt Men's Room Incident and Michael Myers Resplendent.

But here augmented by some discreetly dramatic strings and the small band, and with some of the most simple but delightful melodies he has ever written, Darnielle takes you along for a tumbling ride fullof unexpected swerves ("I feel so proud to be alive . . I feel so proud when the Reckoning arrives" is quite some emotional leap in the urgent and cheerfully apocalyptic title track).

He seems (as usual) to be a bit down on himself (on Autoclave says "no one in their right mind would make my home their home" as he catalogues his shortcoming) so you don't come here for knee-slapping humour -- although the journey is such a lyrically strange one that it is bound to raise a smile or two.

There is a desperation in his delivery too which can be quite gripping, although some of his finest moments come when he leans back a little: Is that a touch of reggae in New Zion?

He also makers a natty musical references the Cure in the opener.

The track Sept 15 1983 is, in part, about a graffiti writer beaten to death by New York cops. I think.

If you haven't picked up on Darnielle/Mountain Goats this is a fine place to start: it sounds great and it is lyrically dense (sometimes dark) but rewarding.

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Grant Stone - Nov 24, 2008

Definitely one of my picks for best album of the year!

Angela - Dec 15, 2008

This is my third choice and it gets it because it has variety, liveliness, oddity, quirkiness - and has challenged me to listen hard to the lyrics instead of being able to let them flow over me.

Shaun - Dec 20, 2008

It was by listening to Dunedin’s Radio 1: 91 FM hearing tracks from 2006 EP Babylon Springs (and subsequently winning a copy), my ears and brain were first delighted by John Darnielle’s band “Mountain Goats”. Hearing one of their tracks on the one of our favourite tv shows “Weeds” further confirmed their status for me. That fantastic ep left me wanting more, and Heretic Pride has definitely deserved a trip to the podium as one of my favourite albums of the year.

Darnielle has a distinctive voice, often delivered with an urgency that can leave the listener a little breathless. While for some his almost nasal tones might at times grate, on this album there is such a variety of pace and range of tone to the songs that the whole thing, to my ears, is pitch perfect. His insightful, witty and smart lyrics (“we were parked/in your car/in our neutral meeting place/the Episcopalian churchyard”- from the evocative “So Desperate”) often seem to attract a lot of the attention. But musically the Mountain Goats propel the songs to great effect with strings, piano, organ, and cello sharing the soundscape with acoustic and electric guitars and percussion, along, of course, with Darnielle’s vocals.

The most well-known song from the album is the first, the intriguingly titled “Sax Rohmer #1” (check wikipedia for a great photo of that British author, creator of Fu Manchu.) The song also has a great video which has received a bit of airtime, and is well worth checking out.

Darnielle was interviewed by Kim Hill a week or two back while in NZ- it is on the Radio NZ website. For those of you who are lucky enough to live in Wellington and got to see the Mountain Goats- I envy thee! For me, happily ensconced in Dunedin, I just have to remain content with one of the best albums of the year – the Mountain Goats’ Heretic Pride - remaining on high rotate on the stereo.

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