Over the course of new LP 'Getting Into Knives,' TheMountainGoats cast a dark blessing that seems driven by a rare, intuitive conviction: Your shadow has something to show you. Read DavidDark's review:
Over the course of 13 songs, the spell cast by John Darnielle & co. confers a dark blessing that seems driven by a rare, intuitive conviction.
which turned into a song John Darnielle imagined aloud would be better tackled by Mary Chapin Carpenter. From there, Darnielle conjures and gives voice to a divorcee travelling across the country taking pictures of her wedding dress in different contexts and locations. She pauses in the bathroom of a Burger King to note the presence of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler on an overhead speaker (“He doesn’t want to miss a thing”), takes in the sights with a determined open-handedness, and also considers the challenge she faces as she tries to recover a sense of self: “I’m going to have to chase down the remnants of something special that you stole from me.”
It can be argued that every Mountain Goats album has at least one achingly earnest centrepiece. There’s still humor, but there’s also a poignancy that has one song sticking out a little and almost serving as key or a legend with which to discern the psychic terrain being peculiarly addressed this time around. This is one possibly helpful take on “Bell Swamp Connection.” Culture, we feel, is a crime scene: “Somebody’s always just about to put some awful plan in motion.” And amid eastern redcedars and “undeveloped” land, there appears a stone slab with some kind of scrawl to be discerned. To say more feels like a lyrical spoiler, but, if you aren’t moved to tears or at least a pang of familiar feeling by the chorus, you might be in need of an exorcism.
Speaking of wicked spirits,Getting Into Knivesalso includes an offering for a relatively small file of popular songs about popularity itself. Consider this question: “Is it any wonder I resent you first?” These words arise out of a form of psychic turmoil held at an angle through lyricization in a song that names the turmoil itself: “Fame” (David Bowie, Carlos Alomar, & John Lennon). Like a Gollum that’s learned to chill out long enough to pen some lines, “Fame” notes the fire, the misplaced passion, and the insanity of a phenomenon that “puts you there where things are hollow.” With “Get Famous,” The Mountain Goats shed light on this shadowy substance, scrying the lived fact of the condition for the best-selling curse it is:
”You arrive on the scene like a message from GodListen to the people applaudThis is what you were born to doWesley Willis taught me how to write about you”If you don’t know the name Wesley Willis, you’re going to want to look him up. Sometimes referred to as “The Daddy of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” he operated as an outsider artist whose songs often yield a vision of particular acts, (like Urge Overkill, for instance) which are simultaneously effusive, descriptive, but also
evocatively ambiguous. For Darnielle to describe Willis as someone who instructed him in the task of writing about fame is illuminating. It makes the song a little more like a mystery text. It’s as if saying “Go on & get famous,” is a little like turning a character’s soul over to a fire that might refine but might also only consume it. You do you, and see what happens.
But lest any of this sound too grim, this is not the spirit of the album. That spirit is perhaps best captured with the toe-tapping opening number that emerges out of a strange, static-y cacophony. “Corsican Mastiff Stride” sets the stage for what will befall the listeners and accompanying players with this directive: “Put it all on the table and let it ride.” There are ghosts here with kind and bitter warnings concerning misdirected expenditure of soul and tales of rest beyond our world of luck and brutality. They’re momentarily housed in songs that seem to urge Joe Strummer’s encapsulation of punk rock, “exemplary manners to your fellow human beings,” a counsel of imaginatively open-handed hospitality to strangers, any one of whom might bear a righteous oracle. This includes those most estranged, at least for now, from their own humanity. As Darnielle observes in, “Tidal Wave,” “Even the proud, even the very proud, probably die on their knees.”
Getting Into Knivessummons such voices, inviting us to hold them at a creative angle whereby we can listen to them and manage them without drowning completely. It’s a healing exercise.David Dark is an educator in Nashville and the author of Read more: Paste Magazine »
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