Getting Into Knives, the 19th album by the Mountain Goats, debuts October 23, on Merge Records. Getting Into Knives is yet another album born in the depths of this nefarious year of quarantine. While themes of quarantine do not permeate through this album, it is clear that front-man John Darnielle used his time in isolation to write a few prolific stories.
Track 1: Corsican Mastiff Stride
The Mountain Goats kick off the album with a happy, go-lucky song that appears to be a dog-lover’s response to The Weakerthans’ “Plea from a Cat Named Virtue” and subsequent Virtue songs.
Track 2: Get Famous
The album’s lead off single has a Boss meets O.A.R. feel and a fun sax throughout, but it falls short of being a song that will stick with you because the chorus never builds to a true crescendo. This song is the Homecoming Dance of the album that you’ve been looking forward to, but when you get to the dance you spend the entire night on the wall instead of finding the courage to get out on the dance floor.
Track 3: Picture of My Dress
This song is a golden hour of sound that makes a truck stop feel enchanting. The storytelling prowess of this song and its joyful melody, transfigures the mundane into magic and convinces you that you would be a fool to not hop in your jalopy right now and drive to the first place you can breakdown at in the middle of nowhere.
Track 4: As Man Candles As Possible
The track starts with a strong Johnny Cash intro that is immediately cut down when Darnielle’s vocals don’t deliver a sound as intimidating and strong as the first few thrums. Not to mention, a clash between horns and other backing tracks makes it sound like the prologue to The Elephant Man (Dir. David Lynch, 1980), when Merrick’s mother is trampled to death.
Track 5: Tidal Waves
The Mountain Goats are again off to a false start with a nostalgic first few bars of bass, bass drum, and rim, reminiscent of a smoky nightclub where the band wears sequin dinner jackets that haven’t been washed in 15 years. But instead of picking up at any point, the song lasted three minutes too long and veered into a Peter and the Wolf oboe-off.
Track 6: Pez Dorado
At this point in the album, I’m frankly a little bored. While the tales that are being woven are rich, I feel over-saturated by such an unbalanced focus on lyrics vs. the totality of a lush song, that it actually creates a barrier between me and connecting with the music. I want to sink beneath the waves of the Mountain Goats’ emotions, but I am instead floating on top of the lake on a cheap, plastic floaty that is rapidly deflating.
Track 7: The Last Place I Saw You Alive
In “The Las Place I Saw You Alive,” the Mountain Goats attempt to give us their “Candle in the Wind,” but again they leave the listener with a boring melody that shrouds any interesting lyrics.
Track 8: Bell Swamp Connection & Track 9: The Great Gold Sheep
Shave two minutes off both of these tracks and maybe you have something.
Track 10: Rat Queen
This is easily my favorite song of the album. It is a great swamp rock tune reminiscent of that Talla-nasty sound. While I wish that Darnielle had inserted more grit and authority into his vocals throughout the refrains, the chorus is perfectly accompanied by a Heartbreakers-esque bugga-boo.
Track 11: Wolf Count
“Wolf Count” is the best hidden B-side track this album has to offer. While the sound continues to be subtle, the melody builds a story that finally compliments the mythical lyrics of Darnielle’s retelling of the Wild Hunt, ending in an enchanting bubble of tones. “Wolf Count” brings to the table some serious John Denver vibes.
Track 12: Harbor Me & Track 3: Getting Into Knives
With Rat Queen and Wolf Count, I thought the album was on a B-Side uptick, but was instead let down by “Harbor Me” and the title track, “Getting Into Knives,” both of which take up too much real estate on the album.
The Mountain Goats have a lot to offer. Darinelle easily produces some of the best storytelling songs I’ve ever heard; however, he doesn’t match his vocals to the talent of these lyrics, resulting in both songs that never quite find their way to their hook and an overall uneven album. If the Mountain Goats can commit to finding a way for their subtleness to not override their passion, but instead compliment it, the Mountain Goats have a real shot of becoming entries in the future 21st Century Great American Songbook.
Getting Into Knives, the latest album by the Mountain Goats, is available here on October 23, 2020.