Artist Profile: The Mountain Goats

The Mountain Goats (Source: Chrissy Piper)“The Mountain Goats” is an American folk/Indie band consisting primarily of the prolific singer/songwriter John Darnielle, who sometimes acts as the “band’s” only member, releasing solo work under the moniker The Mountain Goats. The Mountain Goats have released 16 albums thus far, each one showcasing a distinct sound while simultaneously demonstrating musical and lyrical progression.

Originally, Darnielle had no intentions of becoming a full-time musician. He began by setting some of his poetry to music, with a cheap-as-dirt guitar he’d picked up at a nearby strip mall. At this point, Darnielle still wanted to be a poet. But eventually his “musical-poetry” began to more accurately resemble fully realized songs. He began to collaborate with friend and bassist, Rachel Ware, after sharing some of his songs with her. From 1991–1995, the two toured together and recorded a couple albums, which were available in cassette-form only.

The majority of The Mountain Goats early work favored a low-fidelity (lo-fi) style; an intentionally rough sound with background noise, humming and distortion evident in the finished songs. The album “Tallahassee” (2002) marked a major step forward for Darnielle; he signed a record deal with 4AD, a British independent record label, and has remained with them since. “Tallahassee” marked a change in sound as well. While it’s still clearly him, the lo-fi style is largely gone and much of the music resembles that of an actual band as opposed to a solo act. 

Darnielle’s vocals are very idiosyncratic, and at times, very conversational. His voice has the capability of being either meek or extremely passionate, it all depends on what he’s trying to convey in the song. His songs often tell a story and sometimes full albums are devoted to telling a single story (i.e. concept albums). His lyrics are often called “highly literate,” which they are; he is an English major after all.

A talented musical artist has the ability to accurately evoke and convey genuine emotions and thoughts whilst broadening the listener’s horizons. Being easy on the ears doesn’t hurt either. Using this criterion, Darnielle meets all the requirements. 

Some standout tracks include: “Fall of the Star High School Running Back,” “Dance Music,” “Get Lonely,” and “Sax Rohmer #1.” For the casual listener, his newer albums like “The Sunset Tree,” “Get Lonely,” and “Heretic Pride” are probably more accessible than his previous works. His newest album, “The Life of the World to Come,” was released on October 6 receiving many positive reviews. It is the most religiously themed album by The Mountain Goats to date, with each track inspired by or named after a single verse of the Christian bible. Some may be put off by the prospect of a religion-based album, but I assure you that it’s very listenable.

All art is subjective, but it often seems that many “good” artists are overlooked, which is ironic considering how easy it is to discover and listen to bands like The Mountain Goats. Many people seem to be content simply listening to whatever has a beat; they’re not looking for anything more. And that’s fine, but artists like Darnielle have more to offer, if you’re willing to listen.

The Mountain Goats are performing at the Showbox (At the Market) on November 10 and their sixteenth official album has just recently been released. Indulge yourself, satisfy your curiosity and give The Mountain Goats a shot.