If New York magazine’s write-up on the relationship between John Darnielle, lead singer for (and really, the brains and soul of) the Mountain Goats and his fans is a true bellwether, I’m not of the normal sort of Mountain Goats fans. I didn’t come into enjoying Darnielle’s admittedly fantastic songwriting due to unfortunate circumstance, it didn’t change my life in any capacity – emotional, spiritual, or otherwise) and while I certainly admire Darnielle and his work, I don’t hold some deity-and-disciples reverence for him (the same goes for Jeff Tweedy, M. Ward, &c.). Certainly, the Mountain Goats serve as a musical and, frankly, literary inspiration, but in the same way a lot of the music I enjoy serves as a musical inspiration.
I’m just a guy who holds John Darnielle and the Mountain Goats in high regard and enjoys his albums and songs. With that, here’s my Top 5 favorite Mountain Goats songs:
5. “High Hawk Season”, All Eternals Deck
Admittedly, the Mountain Goats’ latest project, All Eternals Deck, wasn’t as well received as some of their older albums (though to be fair some of their older albums set a high bar), though that’s certainly not to say that there are some good tracks on the album. This is one of them – “High Hawk Season” may be the most musically adept track on the album, what with its barbershop-style harmony (music theorists, please don’t hit me over the head with the exact definition of barbershop, for as a layman, I probably won’t understand it anyway).
4. “Alpha Rats Nest”, Tallahassee
The last track on 2002’s downright brilliant album Tallahassee, “Alpha Rats Nest” is much jauntier fare melodically (even if lyrically it’s just about as dark as “The Best Death Metal Band in Denton”, and, frankly, the rest of the album) than the rest of the album – the story of a marriage constantly at odds (which I’ll get to in a moment) – and kind of represents the sort of middle finger to the fictional couple’s separation; bad things are going to happen, but they’ll go through it anyway, and will relish it (a bit like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in that regard).
3. “Love, Love, Love”, The Sunset Tree
While this is a great song both lyrically and melodically, I’m starting to get sick of all the people covering it.
2. “Get Lonely”, Get Lonely
To be honest, I think I enjoy Get Lonely as a whole more than I do Tallahassee, as it has the power to both lift me up and make me feel a little melancholy almost simultaneously. This track sort of crystallizes it.
1. “No Children”, Tallahassee
Remember that fictional couple with the downright toxic marriage I was talking about with “Alpha Rats Nest”? The chickens come home to roost on “No Children,” quite possibly the most poignantly angry song I’ve ever heard. Darnielle goes back to his punk roots on more than a couple of tracks in his catalog – “Oceanographer’s Choice” off of Tallahassee, “Psalms 40:2” from The Life of the World to Come and “Estate Sale Sign” from All Eternals Deck are three I can think of just offhand – but instead of a raised voice, it’s a much softer one, but with just as much – if not more – bite.