These are the manic ramblings that go through my head at all hours of the day or night.

 

The Mountain Goats - “Transcendental Youth.” A review.

Reviewing a new Mountain Goats album has a few givens that must be briefly addressed. These are commonalities between essentially every post Millennial MG records. We must dispense with them so that we can distinguish the unique merits and weaknesses of this record amongst a very consistent and exemplary catalogue.


First: the lyrics are astonishing. So it always was, so it will always be. No one writes lyrics like John Darnielle. His songs have always first and foremost been vehicles for the wildly eclectic and moving stories of one of the most evocative raconteurs in music.

Second: John Darnielle’s voice is a real make or break moment for enjoying any Mountain Goats recording ever. I’d say it’s a voice you either love or you hate, but honestly, nobody really loves his voice. Even the most hardcore of MG fanatics is more likely to say they merely tolerate his shrill bleating. That’s not to say he’s a completely unmelodic or artless vocalist, but it’s a real jagged pill to swallow.

Third: He has essentially two types of songs that he has written and rewritten throughout the entirety of his catalogue. This album is no exception. This both explains and aids his prolificness. These two types of songs are:
a) Uptempo, acoustic guitar driven, major key riffs on 3 chord wonders. These are the bouncy, bittersweet, and generally screamed into the face the first few rows They also make up nearly the totality of the first half of his career and the most fervent fan favorites. Generally all the same song with the capo moved around.

b) Quiet, somber, piano driven, minor key ballads. A more recent addition to his repertoire, these are usually marked by his slow, flat delivery that resonates with a certain hollow sadness. These are often performed without the other members of the Mountain Goats (long time bassist and possible serial killer body double Peter Hughes and so-good-at-everything-it-makes-you-cry drummer Jon Wurster). Despite not being being fan favorites, they are often musically much more challenging and show a fumbling knack for crafting awkward, lovely melodies.


That all said, the album is an fidgety, often difficult, but occasionally satisfying mutation on the recent theme of “John Darnielle has whatever producer happens to be around do whatever he wants to gussy up his songs.” The last half a dozen records have seen Wurster and Hughes become more of an actual band as opposed to superfluous appendages to what has always been Darnielle’s solo project. On this, they are integrated more than ever and for the first time, it feels like they are knit into the innermost fabric of the songs. Obviously, there are the usual barnstromers like “Cry for Judas” and “Harlem Roulette” where it sounds like the trio get to let loose together, but even on songs where Darnielle brings the energy down the production sneaks up to the front, you can hear the band pace in the shadows.

As for the production touches, Darnielle has always struck me as a man so utterly secure in his talents and the consistency of his personal delivery that he is quick to embrace any novel and quirky presentation. From strings to all girl reggae a capella groups, to bleeping casio beats, Darnielle has pretty much thrown everything at the wall just to see what sticks. Sometimes, it creates these beautifully nuanced records like The Sunset Tree or contributes to the menace of songs like “Lovecraft in Brooklyn.” Other times, you get “High Hawk Season.”

Here, the orchestrations and production come in the form of unwieldy trumpets to high-production-synthesizer-circa-1983, all of it a bit shaky, none of it entirely convincing. “Lakeside View Apartment Suites” and “Night Light” ( otherwise restrained broods), have this weird 80s Post-Punk One Hit Wonder vibe. The horns on “Cry For Judas” could be interpreted as a half-hearted riff on new labelmates Neutral Milk Hotel. “In Memory of Satan” provides a slightly more fitting take on Sufjan Stevens, but the whole affair is a bit too unsubtle for my taste. The final“Transcendental Youth” in particular has this nasty smooth jazz feel that, for the first time in of the Mountain Goats catalogue or releases, raises questions about the awkward questions about cultural appropriation by souless white players.

Still, the album isn’t completely devoid of musical evolution. The Tamla Motown of “The Diaz Brothers” is a surprising new addition to the toolbox that seems astonishingly to fit Darnielle’s hyper literate sensibilities. Elsewhere, songs like “Harlem Roulette” prove the boys can still deliver a tight, 3 minute holisticpop gem. Good work done in spite of a bit of overseasoning.

Gra(y)de:B+

I’ve been enjoying the hell out of this album. There was a lot working against it,  the whole thing seemed superficially a tad precious for my taste: fact 1, the band appears to be comprised of two nordic nymphettes. Fact 2, they obtained much of their fame via a Youtube cover (the most irritating cultural internet phenomenon I can imagine*) of a Fleet Foxes song (a band I frankly don’t care much for). Still, the cover is rather well-done and so I was intrigued. 
This is a truly enchanting album. It’s like if Nabokov wrote druid folk-tales. These two sisters are teenage pagans come down from the mountains to pray around bonfires, their voices dancing with the smoke; the sweetness making you forget that the Gods they serve are more frightful than you could ever imagine, more frightful by far. Their harmonies, their songs, even their lyrics are enthralling. Touches of twang and darkness, pixie Simon and Garfunkel. Really wonderful, can’t recommend it enough.

I’ve been enjoying the hell out of this album. There was a lot working against it,  the whole thing seemed superficially a tad precious for my taste: fact 1, the band appears to be comprised of two nordic nymphettes. Fact 2, they obtained much of their fame via a Youtube cover (the most irritating cultural internet phenomenon I can imagine*) of a Fleet Foxes song (a band I frankly don’t care much for). Still, the cover is rather well-done and so I was intrigued. 

This is a truly enchanting album. It’s like if Nabokov wrote druid folk-tales. These two sisters are teenage pagans come down from the mountains to pray around bonfires, their voices dancing with the smoke; the sweetness making you forget that the Gods they serve are more frightful than you could ever imagine, more frightful by far. Their harmonies, their songs, even their lyrics are enthralling. Touches of twang and darkness, pixie Simon and Garfunkel. Really wonderful, can’t recommend it enough.

New Comic Book Day Reviews, THE NIGHT BEFORE! BWAHAHAHA!!!

After playing the Gulu, I stopped into Harrison’s Comics in Salem, MA. Since this week was all kindsa fucked up from the holiday, they were open late and had already set out tomorrow’s comics. I grabbed a few, in addition to some awesome and cheap classic LPs (will post about those on Sunday). Here are my reviews.

Batman and Robin #13 - I think I’d be happy if all books were Grant Morrison writing about Batman. The thing I like best about Morrison is that (unlike, well EVERY OTHER CURRENT BATMAN WRITER) he gets the difference between Bruce and Dick in terms of characterization. Most writers tend to write Dick Grayson Batman like Bruce Wayne Batman; grim, gritty, Dark Knight yadda yadda. Morrison writes Dick as someone playing the part of Batman (as he says in this issue, “keeping the costume warm”), but making it his own, making jokes and using his unique skills. Insisting on calling Jim Gordon “Commissioner Gordon” was a really nice, subtle touch. It’s actually a rather skillful way to brig back the more campy, hammy Batman of the Silver Age without basically neutering two decades of Batman stories. 

The wring in the issue is superb, which is beginning to go without saying. I wasn’t sold on Frazer Irving’s art when I saw the preview (plus Simon Hurt seems to have a really racists chinese caricature for a lawyer) but pages like this (forgive the shitty pics):

sold me. Plus this:

Hurt may or may not be Thomas Wayne, but he is certainly a PIIIIIIIIIIIIMP.

Shadowland #1 - The more I read about this, the more interested I am. I like the idea of a sort of localized crossover, a street-level event. I’m genuinely excited about the concept of actually having the Osborn administration be held culpable (if only in this book) for the batshit crazy stuff they did. I’m just not exactly sure how it’ll be pulled off, even after reading this issue. 

The Marvel universe (like all comic book universes populated by supertypes) can be hard to navigate when it comes to events. The fact is, you’ve got a world where Gods and demons and Hulks and aliens walk around doing feats of daring-do, often fighting alongside street-level guys like Spiderman and Daredevil. This means that, when shit goes down company-wide, you need something that’ll keep everybody busy. And when I say everybody, I mean EVERYONE, including the Big Guns. Big alien threats work well for this, big Hulk smackdowns, also having the heroes fight each other is nice. You just need something. Otherwise, you’ve got an event where Daredevil starts running a street-gang made of ninjas and everyone’s bitching about it and the Avengers looks like they don’t give a shit when they could probably slap the whole thing down over the course of a long weekend.

They try to hang a lantern on the issue by having a scene where the big three (Iron Man, Thor, Cap) make Iron Fist and Luke Cage be their bitch errand boys, implying that if DD doesn’t play nice they’re going to gangbang his candy ass, but it doesn’t quite read right. DD was almost in the Avengers, fer realz yo (remember back at the beginning of Bendis’ run? He got a formal invite!). Not to mention the fact that they last time they thought DD was in trouble, the whole crew of them piled in a jet and flew to Japan to help a brother out. Now they wont even take the C train to Hell’s Kitchen to talk to the dude? THOR CAN FUCKING SEE SHADOWLAND FROM AVENGERS TOWER, AND THAT NIGGA CAN FLY!!!

We’ll see how the rest of it pans out. Art is OK. Little sketchy for my taste, but whatever. 

The Boys # 44 - Not entirely sure why I picked this up because I haven’t been following the book that closely, but still great stuff from Ennis. Pretty easily accessible, less cringeworthy than usual. Russ Braun is a stellar artist and really really good addition to the book, so I hope he sticks around. Given how Robinson seems unable to make deadlines on the book (a fact I don’t begrudge him, just stating the obvious) and, frankly, I don’t think this has been his best work. He set the bar high with Transmet, and I’ve been a little underwhelmed with his pages. Braun, on the other hand, has a style that’s almost identical to Robinson, but more dynamic and I really can’t get sick of it. He’s a much better fill in than the incredibly talented McCrea and Snej (who are both artists I love to read drawing to Ennis but never really jived with here).

 

That’s all she wrote for now. Might check out a few more tomorrow ad letcha know what I think.
Second to their self-titled, this is probably my favorite of the early Sabbath, if only for the inclusion of Fairies Wear Boots. Shit still sounds heavy to this day.

Second to their self-titled, this is probably my favorite of the early Sabbath, if only for the inclusion of Fairies Wear Boots. Shit still sounds heavy to this day.

High on Fire - Snakes for the Divine

I think that the latest High on Fire record “Snakes for the Divine” is pretty great. Astonishingly brutal, with great licks and little touches of stoner metal and fuzz rock. Like a less proggy Mastodon.

I’m coining a new genre for it: Dalekcore.

"EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!"