All Hail the Mountain Goats

20 Essential Songs

by Mike Noren

24 July 2013


15 - 11

15. “Isaiah 45:23” (2009)
(The Life of the World to Come)

On 2009’s The Life of the World to Come, Darnielle explored a range of subjects dealing with religion, faith, and the Bible. On “Isaiah 45:23”, Darnielle presents a prayer from a terminally ill hospital patient, delivered in the form of a gently sweet pop song. The patient is suffering (a full verse follows the pain coursing through his body as he reads magazines), but fully at peace with whatever happens next: “If my prayer goes unanswered, that’s alright.”

14. “Commandante” (2002)
(Devil in the Shortwave EP)

The spirited high point of 2002’s Devil in the Shortwave EP, “Commandante” introduces a young couple with big plans of drunken rebellion: plans to drink a lot of whiskey, ditch their belongings, and shake the whole town upside-down till “coins come falling out of its pockets.” As the song surges to its peak, the pair put on their Che Guevara pins and “sail through the night sky like a pair of bottle rockets.”

13. “No Children” (2002)

With 2002’s Tallahassee, Darnielle devoted an entire album to the “Alpha couple”, a pair that had appeared in a number of earlier songs (“Alpha Incipiens”, “Alpha Sun Hat”, “Alpha Desperation March”, and so on). The two were doomed from the start, and Tallahassee‘s “No Children” takes them to their lowest lows. The song runs through a list of “hopes” that starts out bleak (“I hope that our few remaining friends give up on trying to save us”) and quickly turns hateful (“I hope I lie and tell everyone you were a good wife”)—ultimately arriving at “I hope we both die” in the sing-along chorus.

12. “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” (2002)
(All Hail West Texas)

The opening track from All Hail West Texas, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” is the story of Jeff and Cyrus, childhood friends with big dreams of death metal superstardom. Concerned parents and teachers shut down the band before it even settles on a name, but the dream won’t stay down forever: “The best ever death metal band out of Denton will in time both outpace and outlive you.” A triumphant “Hail Satan!” drives the point home.

11. Duke Ellington (1995)
(collected on Protein of the Future…Now!)

From the story of Jeff and Cyrus to the Mountain Goats’ fired-up concert renditions of Ace of Base’s “The Sign”, Darnielle and his characters have often turned to music to help get their emotions sorted out. In “Duke Ellington”, the scene is a 1962 jazz concert in Sweden, where the narrator finds his thoughts drifting to someone he’s lost. He gets caught up in the sights and sounds—lights reflecting off jewelry, horns punching the air—and seemingly comes out with a strengthened resolve: “I’ve had just about enough of losing things.”

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