Unpopular Advent 2019 – Day 17

The Mountain Goats – ‘An Antidote for Strychnine’ from ‘In League With Dragons’ LP

From the opening bass notes and deeply reverberating drums of ‘Done Bleeding’ it is clear we have come a long way from those Itzcuintli-Totzli Days. This is no bad thing. For whilst some may proclaim a preference for Mountain Goats’ records made in those distant times of no-fi recording technologies and filled with guttural howls of frustration and wounds opened by razor-wire and soaked in vinegar (catch us on a certain day and we’ll sometimes say yeah, there is a point to be made there) we feel duty bound to remind ourselves that we are no longer in our twenties and we are no longer in Kansas. Or wherever the hell we always felt uncomfortable, lost, blighted, benighted, burn-it-all-down enraged. Which isn’t to say we don’t dig that some of us could never and can ever escape those places because those places travel WITH us, however often and however quickly we run away. Those things are perhaps within us eating us out… It’s just, perhaps we can find a balm in the very process of the running, in the process of the making it up as we grow.

Dylan said something about how life isn’t for finding ourselves but for making ourselves and whilst we are sure he was paraphrasing or just plain stealing those lines, let’s just think on the words and say heck yeah, amen to that brother Bob and head on out to make something new of/for ourselves from the threads of wonderment that we catch in the air and in the earth and in the spirits. We said yesterday that Robert Forster is a splendid example of the artists’ work ethic and we suppose this is what we are thinking about again today. Making the work because of need and not because of some great reward. We would suggest that John Darnielle is in this mould, for has there been a more marvellously productive artist in the past twenty seven years? We can think of few to compare and certainly the Mountain Goats’ ‘In League With Dragons’ album is another piece of a puzzle that continues to enthral, changing its skin with each passing phase, delightfully confusing and challenging us as we get older.

Indeed, there are moments when listening to ‘In League With Dragons’ when we wonder if we are listening to The Mountain Goats at all and have instead been teleported onto the set of a 1970s made-for-TV movie where a band of musicians have been booked to make a soundtrack and where the producer’s only direction is that it should be “kinda jazzy funky soulful, you know, like ‘Abandoned Luncheonette’” And the band are pros and so of course they make it up on the spot and of course they fuckin’ NAIL it.

It’s true. The Mountain Goats fuckin’ NAIL IT on ‘In League With Dragons’. This is the sound of a group who are assured but never showy, supremely confident but never cocky. Jon Wurster’s drums are frequently mesmerising, sometimes syncopated (as on terrific album closer ’Sicilian Crest’ or fusing with the horns as ‘Younger’ reaches its climax) other times sparse and restrained. A thump that pierces the heart just so. Measured. Treasured. Peter Hughes’ bass is supremely smooth and invites us to remember the way Scritti Politti sounded when they made ‘Songs To Remember.’ Horns and strings lend textures that are at times delicate, at others pungent and bewilderingly complex with patterns playing off each other like repeated harshangs in a Khorosan carpet. Like, WOW.

‘An Antidote For Strychnine’ is one of those points where the group know the treasure to be found in playing it slow and spacious, building to points of restrained release. When a flurry of woodwind blows in at three minutes forty it feels like delicious refreshment after a trek through the painted desert. Their brief refrains are immediately picked up by organ keys, swirling round our spines and leading us on a divine dance into a landscape of gloriously refined flashes of colour, as though we tripped over the Box Of Delights and slipped into the folds of an Adriaen van de Velde painting reimagined by Ethel Schwabacher. Let’s say it again: Like, WOW.

This then is how we see The Mountain Goats in 2019. In League With Dragons. In a league of their own.

Like, WOW.

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