Mountain Goats Made Lo-Fi Bedroom Tracks Before It Was Cool
Photo courtesy of Billions
Have you ever been given a mixtape with that one track you could never get out of your head — but at the same time, you had no idea who made it or what it was even called? If so, there's a fair chance you've been listening to Mountain Goats all along.
Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle has a voice like spring water rolling off the side of muddy Mount Everest. It's clear at the outset but also tarnished in some other organic way. That sound, coupled with jangley guitars and his particular brand of sarcastic, narrative lyrics, comprises the glue-like songs that stick in listeners' minds well past the first spin of a Mountain Goats record.
Formed in the early '90s in Claremont, California, the band is now based out of Durham, North Carolina, a place that's shaping up to be the new epicenter of all things cool and country. The dusty-chic aesthetic of the Mountain Goats, mixed with the aforementioned high-register croon from Darnielle, makes for a perfect leap into neo-Americana music.
But Mountain Goats were cool way before the latest indie revolution began to take shape in the early 2000s. They were making cassette recordings when CDs were the norm; they were releasing bedroom songs when all everyone wanted to do was land in a big, glossy studio and become the next Nirvana or Pearl Jam. They even recorded entire albums on a boom box.
"I bought the Panasonic on a lark, because I had a good job and my rent was cheap," Darnielle told New Times via a cheeky, on-the-fly Twitter interview back in 2013. "Ditto the guitar. Impulses."
Despite being a tad more polished than in those earlier days, the band still follows its impulses, singing about youth, animals, the dawn, and loss, as in the song "Luna" from the group's 2015 release, Beat the Champ: "Burn hard, burn hard, smoldering pieces landing in the yard/Trace names in ash, big names, old friends, and dead ends," whisper-sings Darnielle. It's a touching track and reads like an old friend admitting his inner fear of getting older.
Mountain Goats have also been known to write about Florida, a state that Darnielle views as a natural terminus to many of his songs' story arcs about "people who try to run away from themselves by following the 10 Fwy to the end."
"All the stories from that bunch, the Tallahassee ones, are made-up stories," Darnielle continued in the same Twitter interview. "[I] was reading a lot of John Berryman when the story started; he was a kid in Florida. The people sort of become alive as I write."
As to why the many Mountain Goats references to Florida, Darnielle confessed, "Many, many creative choices boil down to: 'Well, why not this?' — in this case, 'Why not Florida?'?"
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After releasing its 15th full-length album (Mountain Goats recordings go all the way back to their first CD/cassette/LP, released in 1994 on Ajax records, Zopilote Machine), the band is in the midst of a two-month tour taking it from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Amsterdam, Netherlands — with plenty of American and European stops in between. Of course, it'd be remiss not to include Florida.
So break out your old tapes, dig out that Panasonic boom box that's been collecting dust under your bed, and prepare your ears for a reunion with some of your old lo-fi favorites, whether you knew their names or not.
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 7, at the Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $20 plus fees. Call 954-564-1074, or visit ticketmaster.com.
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