Music

The Mountain Goats: The Coroner's Gambit

Charles Marshall

The Mountain Goats

The Coroner's Gambit

Label: Absolutely Kosher
US Release Date: 2000-10-17
Amazon
iTunes

The Mountain Goats are a veritable army of one, generaled by Colo, Iowa resident John Darnielle. His weapons of choice are a Panasonic boom box and an acoustic guitar, and his lo-fi recordings peg and hiss like the homemade tapes that most of them are. But Darnielle couldn't care less about such meddlesome blemishes, for he usually is too far morphed into the identities of his characters -- those engaged in Roman controversies, National League pennant races, or episodes of gourmet cooking. His narratives have always boasted a ferocious attention to detail and an obsessively keen sense of place. A decade-long series of songs has Darnielle "going to" such indie-rock meccas as Catalina, Bangor, Utrecht, Monaco, Kansas, Port Washington, Reykjavik, Santiago, Tennessee, Denmark, Bogota, Queens, Lebanon, Bristol, Palestine, and Lubbock (with Franklin Bruno).

The Coroner's Gambit (or, Slavic Dances, as Darnielle grudgingly allows) is as technologically barren as any other Mountain Goats offering, with Darnielle relying primarily on adrenaline and vocal contortions to fill the gaps that the studio or a backing band normally would fill. Settings always play a predominant role in the Mountain Goats' songs, and on this record, winter is the setting of choice. The trilogy of "Scotch Grove", "Horseradish Road", and "Family Happiness" is steeped in an unbearably cold, midwestern frost from which Darnielle's character uncovers the hideous truths of a fledgling romance. The vitriol toward his companion crests memorably during "Family Happiness" as the pair drive through frigid Canadian evergreens: "I mouthed silent curses at you / I could see my breath / I hope the stars don't even come out tonight / I hope we both freeze to death". But the rage and the frost disappear quite suddenly on "Onions", as Darnielle settles into a quiet, countrified air that rivals Son Volt without even trying.

Do not, under any circumstances, confuse the Mountain Goats' acoustical footing for folk, country, or singer-songwriter pop. Darnielle's truest triumph -- best reflected on songs like "Jaipur", "'Bluejays and Cardinals'", "Alphonse Mambo", and especially "Family Happiness" -- is his ability to channel the dynamics of four players into one. The workmanship of such a feat is, at times, nothing short of spellbinding. Darnielle pounds the six strings like a drum, and his chords often emit a sonic resonance that sounds of several guitars. When his characters' emotions call for it, he plays at a frenetic, possessed pace, adding the oddly shaped chord where necessary to accent the appropriate emotion. Even when he softens his approach, as he does on "Horseradish Road" and "There Will Be No Divorce", the lingering notes leave mischievous overtones that heighten the suspense of the plot. Imagine if Sebadoh or Guided by Voices was a solo act, and you can begin to understand why Darnielle's resourcefulness, not to mention his intellectual rigor, has endeared him to college radio since he began making music 10 years ago. Here's hoping we get 10 more.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

9
Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane
Music

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".

Music

Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.

Music

Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.

Film

Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.

Books

On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.