Far removed from their lo-fi beginnings The Mountain Goats are an intricate, and methodical band with some interesting jazz overtones as of late. With some dazzling horns and lots of lyrical wit these California indie pioneers find some interesting footing for their sixteenth album.
With a steady beat and haunting chants, the album opens darkly on “Rain in Soho” almost feeling a little too over-the-top in its theatrical intensity. As harmonies build the voice of the song build into an almost ritualistic cry as they push the weight of this dynamic intro. “Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds” skips along with a much dreamier and sunnier disposition. While a fun little lyrical journey, with melodies that expand throughout the track it does feel a little lacking in terms of overall variety, as quaint as it may be.
Taking listeners on another lyrical dive, “The Grey King and the Silver Flame Attunement” floats with a jazzy bass riff and shattering horns that cut through perfectly. All this said, apart from the joy of the instrumental brake, this track suffers the same repetitive fallbacks especially on the choruses lyrics. “We Do It Different On The West Coast” starts to push the grooves and melodies more, giving more fleshed out takes that make the repetitive nature work organically without feeling like drone.
Going into a more synth-driven kick “Unicorn Tolerance” has a distinct pop and more electronic sound to it that makes it stand out immediately. The strong sense of changes give the song a lot more life while the slow addition of instrumental layers add to the overall luster it presents. On a pensive bass riff “Stench Of The Unburied” gives an almost disinterested classy pop song, so understated it may even sell itself short by the end. It manages to have smart and quirky lyrics that never hold it back from crafting earworms, along with its warm feeling, that somehow feels hilariously buried in the low-key attitude of the track.
“Wear Black” hits a steady rhythm for catchy percussion that drives a very solemn sounding melody, in sad jazz undertones. The way the rich, vibrating harmonies come together each chorus makes for a heartwarming moment, especially as each key-change makes it feel like a victorious chant. On a retro sounding horn intro “Paid In Cocaine” almost seems to happy to lead to the dark road it moves towards.
Mixing a rippling bass line and moody sax, “Rage of Travers” creeps along with a very controlled emotional trigger, letting loose in small bursts of emotion. While painfully repetitive the interspersed saxophone saves a lot of it. “Shelved” builds an overwhelming sense of intensity on its keys before blooming in its second half. While at times unreasonable in its angry lyrics, the emotional release makes it all seem dissolved by the final section.
“For The Portuguese Goth Metal Bands” rings out in a wide sound spectrum, with a heavy amount of echo and sparse melodies throughout. While carrying intricate stories and emotion in some lyrics there are moments of pretentious lyrics spattered throughout as well unfortunately. Closing out on a much cuter and more poppy note, “Abandoned Flesh” hits a more classic tone and runs with this in stride. While a little sour-sounding lyrically, especially feeling almost too much like a personal music industry story without the names, the delivery carries it through.
Despite some brilliance on instrumentation layers, there’s so many times on Goths where the songs just don’t go anywhere, making their fun and truly clever narratives harder to hold onto. Even with the gripping horns and some fun, cheeky lyrics, there’s moments that also feel too specific and negative to work without being accessible. Needless to say for all its merits, this record definitely requires a good appreciation for jazz and more lyrically-focused music to be truly appreciated.
Words by Owen Maxwell