The Mountain Goats are a little different than most bands, rather than taking on one project at a time they actually took on three. In between recording Songs for Pierre Chuvin and Getting Into Knives, they went into FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals and spent a week recording Dark in Here. For those keeping score that means they recorded on a boombox, in Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis and FAME, where Aretha Franklin, Greg Allman, Wilson Pickett, Bobby “Blue” Bland and a host of others laid down incredible tracks.
On Dark in Here, John Darnielle and his compatriots forge a pathway been some of the most lyrical music they’ve ever produced with songs that offer stunning perspectives on historical events. They do this while incorporating a bit of the rhythm and funk that FAME was known for, illustrating just how deeply this band is able to get into their craft. Yet at the end of the day, the question is how serious they are trying to be.
While there seems to be nothing remotely metal-ish on ‘The Slow Parts on Death Metal Albums’, there is enough to suggest that perhaps, just perhaps, we can’t take these guys too seriously. Dark bass and drums lead the way, while the electric piano suggests something less sinister. Lyrically Darnielle’s lyrics suggest that the darkness may be a ruse, “Aliеn ships from ancient realms (Ships from ancient rеalms)/ Ageless captains at their helms (Captains at their helms)/ Rage from the sea/ Let it begin with me.” The call and response here sounds less like heavy metal and more like something out of the 10cc songbook.
As humans we are a funny species, especially people who review music. We are in danger of getting a little self-important. Which is part of what makes ‘Arguing with the Ghost of Peter Laughner about his Coney Island Baby Review’ so intriguing. The tune is beautiful with acoustic guitar and bass to the fore and a wonderful descending keyboard riff filling the frame. The song concludes with a loving sax solo, yet all the while we are enchanted by a tale of a 23-year-old writer who took dead aim at Lou Reed. The gentleness of the track suggests what is important changes greatly over time. It ain’t life and death, it’s an album. Reed may or may not have taken a misstep perhaps, but it’s still just music.
Other songs seem much more serious. ‘The Destruction of the Superdeep Kola Borehole Tower’ tells the tale of a Russian attempt to drill into the Earth’s crust on the border of Norway. Drums rage while electric piano and organ push things forward relentlessly. Darnielle seems to spit out the lyrics that tell a tale of a mission that went awry. “What will they say back home about you/ Who always kept your objective in view/ Whose effects included contacts that finally got found/ Inside the Arctic Circle, scattered on the ground/ Those who came to learn these lessons/ Left no trace of their presence.”
Literate as all get out and able to turn on a musical phrase in a heartbeat, The Mountain Goats’ Dark in Here suggests this is a band that knows how to make music that can soothe the savage beast…or stir it up at a moment’s notice.