Too many words? Darnielle has a lot to say

The Mountain Goats: We Shall All Be Healed

The Mountain Goats are the new indie-rock hip shoe of choice.

Reason #1: WTJU's (91.1) recent rock marathon featured one two-hour block of the group's recording through the ages. Reason #2: Almost everyone who bears a passing resemblance to cool in town at least "likes" them.

Reason #3: ...I ran out of reasons.

My point, though, is that with song-cycles and questionable recording methods, the group has come from a series of still-talked-about tape-only releases to a common touchstone for lovers of the lo-fi.

John Darnielle is the Mountain Goats. Though others have played on his various releases (starting with tapes recorded on a Panasonic boom-box and released on the Shrimper label in 1991), he is the group's chief songwriter, singer, and guitarist– and for the first 10 years or so of the group's existence, Darnielle, with his furious acoustic strumming and nasal whine, was the primary instrument of the group's recordings.

Although he's literate and lyrically unpredictable, as evidenced by his first larger album release, Nine Black Poppies in 1995, verbosity and sometimes-perturbing word choice are the chief elements of Darnielle's tunes. He favors recurring themes, characters, song-cycles, and other elements which put Sgt. Pepper to shame.

Recorded at Bear Creek Studios in Washington state, We Shall All Be Healed (4AD), the Mountain Goats' 2004 release, is an effort where Darnielle has chosen to once again bring a full band into his fold, an element that I– raised to at least subconsciously consider solo singer/songwriters to be "musicians in search of a band"– enjoy immensely.

Fleshing out Darnielle's sparse world has done his songs right, and although lovers of the Mountain Goats tape years may despair about the exchange of the boom-box for the mixing board, and mono for stereo, they are wrong.

We Shall All Be Healed opens with "Slow West Vultures," with Darnielle's concentration on one chord and his simple, oscillating, two-note verse melody immediately the center of attention.

"Breaking the signal so it's totally unreadable / Drinking the dregs, eating the utterly inedible," Darnielle begins, accompanied by drums, hammer dulcimer, and bass. The dulcimer is the most important element to the song– after the main Mountain Goat himself– providing a wailing counter to the melody lines on the off beats.

"Palmcorder Yajna," the first single from the album, comes next, and it's easy to see why it was chosen as the flag-bearer for this collection. Distorted acoustic guitar and drums play at a moderate rock sway, while Darnielle belts out cryptic lines like "and I dreamt of a house, haunted by all you tweakers with your hands out."

It's on the bridge at 2:26 that the benefits of the extra hands become apparent– mere single piano notes added to the song's basic guitar/bass/drums setup provide a fitting change-up to differentiate the songs truss before the verse comes gallivanting back in.

The Mountain Goats– probably too smart for most. But some may find their verbose simplicity charming– I certainly do.