So consistent with their output, one would be forgiven to miss a Mountain Goats album (or two).
And speaking of two, Getting Into Knives is the second long-player The Mountain Goats have delivered this year after releasing Songs of Pierre Chuvin at the beginning of lockdown – the first lo-fi recordings since their landmark album, 2002’s All Hail West Texas.
Working alongside Matt Ross-Spang who was the engineer for their 2019 release, In League With Dragons, The Mountain Goats headed to Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis where Getting Into Knives was recorded in a week. They used microphones which were salvaged from The Nashville Network, as well as recording the album in the same room where The Cramps tracked their 1980 debut album.
It all starts with Corsican Mastiff Stride. The kind of title only The Mountain Goats could conjure up, it’s a syncopated swooning opener with John Darnielle’s distinctive nasally vocals that, like always, feel nervous and forced.
Get Famous is The Mountain Goats going all Springsteen on us, with a chorus dominated by the kind of anthemic saxophone Clarence Clemons would have been proud of.
Darnielle‘s debut novel, Wolf In White Van, is essential reading and with the simply beautiful Picture of My Dress, Darnielle’s spellbinding storytelling capabilities and endless thirst for fiction begins to unravel. This time in the toilet of a Burger King in Dallas, Texas where Aerosmith’s Don’t Want to Miss a Thing is interwoven into Darnielle’s radiant tale.
And this is where Getting Into Knives comes into its own.
As Many Candles as Possible lends itself to the lo-fi hum of Songs of Pierre Chuvin, but contains instrumentation that gallops with force behind Darnielle’s trademark wordplay.
“Not every wave is a tidal wave,” sings Darnielle on the defiantly gorgeous Tidal Wave. A song that may just be the most fragile moment on Getting Into Knives only for The Last Place I Saw You Alive to confidently surpass its naked delicacy.
In the lead-up to the album’s release, speaking of the song, Darnielle said, “Some waves are slow things that cover you without you having noticed. You either slam the door shut or you open on to the next path.”
The Last Place I Saw You Alive is hymn-like ode that sharply focuses on loss and the aching pains of the past. It’s one of the saddest songs that The Mountains Goats have penned since Matthew 25:21 or Tallhassee’s Have to Explode, with Darnielle almost whispering from behind the piano, “It’s only now and then you come to mind/you left a trillion things behind/that’s just how the maths works out.”
The warm acoustics and skinny rhythms during songs like Pez Dorado, Bell Swamp Connection and Wolf Count add a multi-layered tenderness to The Mountain Goats remit. It sounds like a band truly invigorated.
Despite a new level of heart-warming gold, Rat Queen goes against the grain with swooping organs and an atmospheric riff that continues to expand the sonic terrains The Mountain Goats embark on here.
As he always does, the closing title track sees Darnielle dispense yet another shadowy tale which hovers over the backwaters of America with a new shade of darkness. It rounds off this set of finely crafted songs perfectly.
Where The Mountain Goats‘ recent work has had its moments—most notably the Andrew Eldritch inspired Goths—it’s always been easy to dip in and out of their music without being wholly consumed. In some ways they are victims of their own success, such as the pace in which they release new music.
That’s not the case with Getting Into Knives, an album that demands your immediate attention.
On the back of Songs of Pierre Chuvin, they’ve released a strident record and in a year which will go down as the most peculiar and unsettling of our generation, like always, The Mountain Goats press on. In doing so, they’ve only gone and released one of their finest records in years with Getting Into Knives.
Getting Into Knives is out now via Merge Records.