First things first, let's get the obvious out of the way.
This doesn't sound like a Mountain Goats record.
I mean, the voice is the same. The frantic, bloody-finger-inducing guitar playing is the same (sometimes). The lyrics are just as good as ever. And yet...
There are drums. There are strings. Most of the songs have harmonies (sometimes lots of harmonies). There are no tape wheels grinding in the background. The album cover isn't colored with crayon.
I know this has been a gradual transformation, and Talahassee had just as much production value on it. But it didn't have any songs that song like David Bowie's Heroes.
Anyway, I've been listening to this album for a couple months now, and I think I've gotten to the point of acceptance. So, let's get into the actual review of the songs, shall we?
Basically, with Mountain Goats songs, I tend to divide them into four categories of quality:
Type I - Absolutely awesome songs that completely devastate me emotionally. I know multiple people who can't listen to "Grendel's Mother" without crying. Personally, "Weekend in Western Illinois" does it for me. Other Type I songs include "Going to Georgia," "Orange Ball of Love," "It Froze Me," "No Children"
Type II - Well-written, memorable songs. Good lyrics, but don't have the same emotional heft as Type I songs. Type II songs include "Are You Cleaning Off the Stone," "Sinaloan Milk Snake Song," "Going to Utrecht", "Raid on Entebbe"
Type III - Humorous songs. Best used to introduce people to the Mountain Goats (I have used "Golden Boy" to this effect on multiple occasions), or to lighten the mood after a Type I song when putting together a mix tape. Often quite catchy, but, due to the humorous content, hard to take as seriously. An interesting subset of Type III are the songs that make excessive references to the Inland Empire, which is probably only entertaining to people who have, at some point, lived in the Inland Empire. Other Type III songs include "Beach House," "Itzcuintli-Totzli Days," "Going to Chino"
Type IV - Everything else. Not really bad, but ones I would tend to fast forward.
I should also point out that many songs mask themselves as other types at first. Many people mistake "Going to Georgia" as a Type III upon first hearing it and, only after a few hearings, do they realize that it is, in fact, a Type I. Personally, I mistook "The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton" as a Type III until I saw it performed live. Clearly I wasn't paying enough attention to the last verse.
So, let's divvy up the new album:
(1) Type I ("Your Belgian Things")
(4) Type II ("Palmcorder Yajna," "Linda Blair Was Born Innocent," "Home Again Garden Grove," "The Young Thousands")
(1) Type III ("Pigs That Ran Straightaway Into the Water, Triumph Of")
(7) Type IV (everything else)
So, Type I-III:Type IV ratio is 6:7, which is not too shabby! By comparison, my favorite Mountain Goats album (Zopilote Machine, if you're curious) comes up with a ratio of 10:9, so, by our scientific methods, it would seem that this is one of the best Mountain Goats albums yet!
But, then again, "Palmcorder Yajna" sounds quite a lot like "Heroes" It's got to lose a couple points for that.
Rating: BReviewed by Padgett Arango