Peter Hughes, longtime bassist of the Mountain Goats, describes the goth identity as one "most often associated with youth from a perspective that is inescapably adult." This also explains the M.O. of the band's frontman, John Darnielle, a songwriter who explores adolescent themes with a morbid, though often funny, tone. What they've fashioned on the band's 16th album is an homage to those who wear black.
It's sung in praise of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Gene Loves Jezebel, the Cure's Robert Smith and the Sisters of Mercy's Andrew Eldritch, and on "Unicorn Tolerance," the band tip their hat to spiders, crows and ghosts, too. Several tracks compete to be the album's thematic statement of intent, and "Unicorn Tolerance" makes a good case for it. At one moment, there's a rubbing of graveyard bones against the narrator's face, and the next, he's worrying what friends will think. The slinking "We Do It Different on the West Coast" weaves a web between the goth neighbourhoods of the world, in Darnielle's complex style of setting up and concluding scenes in single verses.
Hughes' bass, Jon Wurster's drums and Matt Douglas's variety of woodwinds and keys are as expressive as the lyrics here. Darnielle adds piano to the mix, and together they shape catchy beats, effortless melodies and orchestral movements with equal skill. The most sombre tune is easily "Rain in Soho," a quest that includes a search for a lone wolf's den and the scouring of a dungeon while a dozen voices from the Nashville Symphony Chorus intone, "No, no, no, no!" Darnielle dramatically checks off a nightmare list that includes "no friends closer than the ones we lost," and "no haven safer than the one they tore down."
The LP is both amusing and poignant, full of strange imagery and punch lines that are characteristic of Mountain Goats. In "Shelved," co-written by Hughes, Darnielle refuses some music industry scenarios, most notably to tour with Trent Reznor ("You can't pay me to make that kind of music"). Elsewhere, "Rage of Travers" finds arena rocker Pat Travers out of his element at a show where "everyone is dressed up like corpses," but something of a response to it comes in "Wear Black," where the band assert that no matter the weather, no matter the event ("Wear black / to the intervention"!) the group can recognize their own in any room. Then there's the sweaty trip down memory lane, "Paid in Cocaine," in which our hero compares his present-day efforts to pay off interest on his mortgage to a previous life in which he paid "by the gram."
A disclaimer in the liner notes emphasizes that the album contains no comped vocals, guitars or pitch corrections. All three decisions, made perhaps because they feel right or — in the case of swapping six-strings for Fender Rhodes — because they'll be more fun, planting a flag for the band's emphasis on an underappreciated lifestyle. They did it this way because this is the way they wanted to do it. It's a reminder that comfort and enjoyment come in a variety of shapes and, yes, shades. (Merge)