Well, it’s definitely been one for the record books.
I’ve already been delayed in Buffalo during the onset of a snowstorm and I barely made my connection here in Washington. Now we’re stalled in a queue for take off as there is only one landing strip available. Awesome. Needless to say I’m getting a bit testy. The wheezing sack of dick tips beside me keeps knocking my arm as he restlessly falls asleep, the cranky old lady ahead of me is bitching about leg room, there’s a crying baby behind me and across the aisle the stewardess is trying to explain the onboard wifi set-up to an old dude who appears to be older than time itself. Honestly, it’s like watching Jane Goodall explain the Expansion Theory of the Universe to one of her chimps. If I don’t plug into something and loose myself soon, by the time we even get to take off this cabin is going to be reduced to a flight of corpses and new President-elect Donald Trump is going to have his first National Crisis to deal with.
That serenity and avoidance to totally go postal on the other passengers around me is coming in the form of my first Texas-inspired albums, ‘All Hail West Texas‘ by The Mountain Goats.
I’m not sure how I heard of this band, but when I saw the album title I knew it would provide good fodder for my next business trip to the Lone Star state. And good thing I did to, because it’s awesome.
But first things first, who in the sweet Sam Hell are the Mountain Goats. Well, the Goats are an American indie folk band formed in Claremont, California by singer-songwriter John Darnielle. In fact, for many years, the sole member of the Mountain Goats was Darnielle and this is actually his last album playing as a solo musician. He (the band) are now currently based in Durham, North Carolina. So, yeah, despite having a Texas-sounding album cover, not to mention lots of Texas-themed songs on the album they (he) themselves are not actually Texan at all.
The album is loosely a concept album, with the cover stating that the album consists of “fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys”. Many of the songs explicitly refer to places in Texas, and evoke a lifestyle ethos born of the vast expanses of desert and highway found in West Texas itself.
The album itself despite it’s simp0listic style and delivery (one dude and his guitar) is complex, awe-inspiring, and fresh with fretwork excitement, revealing sentimental and emotionally charged acoustic gems.
It’s like Daniel Johnson…except it makes sense.
Perhaps what most often reveal itself during this lush and stylistically complex endeavor are the mature and naturally contemplative lyrics that Darnielle has been able to put together in his songs. Highlights such as ‘Riches and Wonders‘ and ‘Distant Stations‘ jump at the chance to grab the listener (not to mention preventing them from donkey punching anyone in their near vicinity). Other tunes that break through indie-level barriers are the eclectic ‘Fall of the Star High School Running Back‘ and the original ‘The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton‘. The textured feel of the variety of sounds and notes created by the Mountain Goats is appealing and gripping, a foray into sounds chilling and pristine; simple but elegant. The delivery of the lyrics is wondrous and breathtaking during certain moments. The band’s instrumental ability possesses dexterous flair, and the result is the charm of the record’s immediacy and absorbing emotional impact. The tragic weakness of ‘All Hail West Texas‘ is perhaps its need for persistent listening in order to understand the direction of the music…which is totally fine with me in this moment as numbnuts beside me keeps elbowing me in the ribs. You have to focus on it and absorb it and, likely, that’s going to take a few minutes. However, maybe that just proves to be the magic key, and the route to further appreciation of this particular period of the Darnielle’s music.
It’s also likely means that everyone is now going to arrive safely in San Antonio with no casualties as a result of successfully venting some of the building Vesuvius-level stress going on in seat 15C.