The first sentence I was going to write here was "You know what's crazy? The way records by The Mountain Goats just keep getting better and better all the time." But, then I realized that there are a whole lot of records by The Mountain Goats that are so good and so deeply satisfying that, truthfully, I wouldn't know how to tell you one was better than another. The latest, Get Lonely, is so very, very truly on that roster of loveliness, and the main point of the following paragraphs is that I strongly recommend that all of you get it and listen to it right away.
The first time I listened to it was just a day or so after my monkey moved out of my house in Prague to go live with his father in California. There was no real drama in that -- it's a good thing for all of us -- but I felt bewildered by grief about it, and there was a miserable squeezing sensation in my chest whenever I thought about how I was supposed to carry on without him. I woke up way too early every morning for weeks and laid in bed wondering what the hell to do with myself, sometimes doing nothing but wander around my small, empty flat, mindlessly cleaning things up, feeling aimless and supremely unobserved, the way that proverbial un-heard tree in the forest of potential non-existence might feel, falling all alone out there.
Get Lonely is about heartbreak, and being left alone. It has
twelve songs on it about waking up to another day of being lonely in a
way that is simply an incontrovertible fact that can't be ignored, and can't be healed by anything but time and change.
It's about not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, not knowing
how anything could ever feel better, being blinded, lost, abject, and
buried in quotidian things while all you can feel is some painfully
specific tangible absence. It features little details about daily
things recounted with such naked, singular sadness, and with such
careful, perfectly pitched simplicity, that, well... I got
nothing. It's fucking beautiful, and as I've said before around here,
John Darnielle not only writes the best songs around, but he is a
performer of special magnificence. Proof of both assertions is available
in spades on this record, buoyed by instrumentation that is quietly surprising
and often lush, while still somehow flawlessly supporting the spare
clarity of Darnielle's vocal performance and usual acoustic guitar.
As I mentioned, I was primed for this one, and the bottom line is that when I first put it in my iPod and got into the bus in front of my flat to the tune of "Wild Sage", I was weeping before that first song was over. I don't know where I was planning to go that morning, but I just rode through Prague on various forms of public transport until the record was over, crying behind my big stupid sunglasses, and then went home and listened to it over and over again for longer than I want to confess in a public forum. It went straight into my heart the way so few records really do, and it wrung me out, but it also helped me see that there was some way not only to feel the deep sadness of being really, really lonely, but also to hope to transcend it.
I've read a few reviews of this record in recent days while I was thinking about what I'd like to say about it, because of course I'm a blowhard, and I wanted to tell my five readers (four of whom have probably, like me, listened to it about 7,843 times already) how much I love it, and I wanted to find the right words to say why. I've read lukewarm reviews, by people who miss the rougher intensity of the lo-fi Goats of yore, a sentiment that frankly bores the crap out of me, and I've read reviews by people that seem not to feel the strength that underlies all the broken sadness and loss in these songs. It's that second crew I wanted to set straight: these songs are sad as hell, but that's not all they are, because as much as they're about loss and heartbreak, they're also about getting up every morning, facing the neighbors, cleaning the house, feeling the existential dread with numbing familiarity, and carrying on.
Get Lonely is a record that lets you feel sad -- lets you cry -- but doesn't feel indulgent, because it's also about transformation. It's about the way you have to go down into brackish water sometimes, without knowing if you're going to come out. I know it's a bit uncritical to get all personal about these things, but I can't even put into words how much resonance that notion has for me. I know exactly what it means to close my eyes and hope real hard that maybe I'll sprout wings, but transformations like those have to be lived, they can't be dreamed up whole; they're part of a fabric that you knit together with every day and detail, by living. That's the kind of strength there is in these songs.
I've always felt struck especially dumb in the face of records by The Mountain Goats. It always feels like the songs on them are so clear in some emotional way that there's no sense in muddying things up by talking about it. This time, though, I really wanted to say that for me, personally, this record is one of those that, despite my high expectations, I didn't see coming, and when it arrived, I couldn't remember how I ever didn't have these songs in my heart. I love it so much.