In League With Dragons is the seventeenth album in twenty-five years from the Mountain Goats. What’s surprising is that John Darnielle, songwriter and frontman for the band, decided to give up control and let one of his old collaborators, Owen Pallet, produce this one.
While fantasy and mystery are two of the key elements to the record, the big question is why Darnielle chose to give up complete control? “Usually when you produce a Mountain Goats record you get pretty frustrated with how controlling I am. It’s not because I know what I’m doing. It’s not because I can tell you how to do your job. It’s just that I know what I don’t want, so I tend to govern by negation.”
Staying in the mood of the album, Darnielle adds, “How good is this band? They’re really good! I am just the captain of the ship. But the people actually keeping the ship on the water, they’re great sailors.” The playing throughout is impeccable, with Matt Douglas, Peter Hughes, and Jon Wurster being joined by Thom Gill, Johnny Spence, Bram Gielen, joined by Pallet.
For a record that started life based on dragons and fantasy, there are a number of songs that don’t really fit that mould. ‘Passaic 1975’ is based on Ozzy Osbourne and his struggles with drugs and alcohol during the 70s. Going further a field, ‘Possum By Night’ is actually sung from the point of view of a possum. The connection between wizards and ‘Doc Gooden’ goes even further afield as Darnielle points out, “Old wizards and old athletes are the same: they were once magic and they were everyone’s hero and they could do anything, but they sacrifice their bodies to what they do – so do wizards. There are actually three real-world wizards on the record: Doc Gooden, Ozzy Osbourne – who’s my personal totemic wizard – and then there’s the guy on Waylon Jennings Live!” ‘Cadaver Sniffing Dog’ presents a noir crime scene investigation serving as a metaphor for a relationship that is no longer salvageable.
From Waylon Jennings style country steel guitar to strings by the Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra, In League With Dragons follows a path that is never straight and narrow. There are radical shifts from baseball to Sicilian Lords. While there may be boulders on the trail, The Mountain Goats have forged a path between the dictators and dilettantes leading to a successful battle.