REVIEW: Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride
We Listen For You Thursday, February 21, 2008
The Mountain Goats have vaulted themselves in that rare echelon of indie rock where, in having carved completely a niche for their own sound, John Darnielle & co. have succeeded in creating a record that when you put it on sounds so worn, so comfortable. So, it's fitting, then, that the raucous chorus for the opening track, Sax Rohmer #1 features Darnielle yelling (accompanied by the sharp clack of drums) "I am coming home to you!"
Heretic Pride is a homecoming record of sorts. We don't have the swooning lonely melodies of Get Lonely or the uncomfortably close feel of The Sunset Tree. Traditionally, singer/songwriters have tried to tread the line between autobiography and universality with tact. We're not a generation used to such care with one's own ego. Our idea of a confessional singer is Eminem. Your folks prefer Carole King, Joni Mitchell, or drug-using James Taylor. We can contrast this with Highway 61-era Bob Dylan whose rambling free-associations from Cinderella to Napoleon could conjure an image, but you weren't quite sure what to do with it. So, too, does Darnielle - on Heretic Pride - emerge from an autobiographical expedition to give us something to do with the world. Imagined biographies populate this record - they're not free-wheelin' like Bobby Dylan's - but taut, paranoid, and yearning to break free. Check the lyrics in "Autoclave": " I dreamt that I was perched atop a throne of human skulls / On a cliff above the ocean, howling wind and shrieking seagulls / And the dream went on forever, one single static frame / Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name"
If the music sounds familiar, don't worry. The Mountain Goats turned their back on the lo-fi sound that gave them their start long ago. And Heretic Pride is another masterpiece of elegant hi-fi soundscapes that brings cellos to roost with Darnielle's simple plucking. Just listen to the orchestration of "So Desperate." It's a gorgeous intertwining that seems to be the evolution of bands like The Mountain Goats - they go hi-fi but without forgetting what made it all work when they were doing it on 4-track: placement, placement, placement.
Still, what's funny about reviewing an album like this is that now matter how cleverly the lyrics unfold, no matter how lush and well put together the orchestration, it's difficult to discern the album from the rest of the artist's work. Perhaps because Darnielle, in turning away from his autobiographical phase, is reworking himself in subtle gestures toward the outside the world. And, I will say, that unlike other Mountain Goats albums, this one feels less hermetic, there are more contributors and it shows in the rich sound. But, let's face it, once you've been floored by the Mountain Goats, you've been floored. And this album is another one to heap on the stack. Hopefully Darnielle can recruit some more with it, and for the rest of us, it's a welcome respite to staring at our navels all day.