hello folks! im gonna get ahead of this one and let y’all know im incapable of being impartial about today’s album, All Hail West Texas. it was incredibly important to me at a difficult point of change in my life, and the record’s focus on transitory periods, difficult relationships (some good, some bad), and the glimmers of holding onto hope, combined with what is easily John Darnielle’s strongest and most compelling performances, make this record incredibly important for me. this is not an flawless record, but it is absolutely one of the Mountain Goats’ best and, on almost any given day, my favorite. with that in mind, let’s check it out!

The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton and Fall of the Star High School Running Back start the recoed with tales of juevinile hardship. Death Metal Band focuses on two metalhead teens whose parents treat their interest as something to be corrected, sending one of the kids off to a boarding school. this, understandable, drives the two away from their parents and towards a path of getting a nebulous revenge. “if you punish a person for dreaming his dream / don’t expect him to thank or forgive you” is a thesis statement of this song, and the delivery on it is just excellent. an effectively stirring opening and an incredible song. High School Running back tells the tale of a football player whose life is derailed by injury and get arrested for selling drugs – the twist of the knife is that he is charged at 17 as an adult under a new law for what are ultimately understandable actions. i may be misremembering, but i remember this being inspired by a specific individual, but Darnielle has talked at length about this being against mandatory minimums. musically, this song is fucking heartbreaking. really really love the guitar work here. both songs are about youths stolen and cut short – i think pairing them back to back like this really sets a specific tone that flavors the rest of the record, even if you disregard the cover art and dont try to assign any of the other songs to William Stanaforth Donaghue or Cyrus and Jeff (as i am inclined to do – i dont like to draw connective tissue between the songs here, even if Darnielle suggests that you can in supplementary material). Color In Your Cheeks is an excellent song – a quiet, angry, loving song about welcoming people into your community, about providing what you can. this one was really big in my initial listens just after the 2016 elections, for obvious reasons. Jenny is, potentially controversally, a song that took some time for me to warm up to. something about the delivery in the chorus never clicked for me, even if i found the rest of the song kind of entrancing in the soft, intermittent strumming and the dream-like vocals across most of the verses. as a note that will be relevant, Jenny as a character appeared on a song on a single that’s outside the scope of this project (Jam Eater Blues), and on a song on Transcendental Youth, and also on a record that JUST came out last month, Jenny From Thebes. Darnielle’s talked about her a bit on I Only Listen To the Mountain Goats (i think he mentioned she’s one of the characters in Source decay later on this record), but im interested to hear what happens on JFT. Fault Lines and Balance also form an interesting pair here in that both are about relationships falling apart (typical Mountain Goats style), though in very different ways. Fault Lines is about a relationship breaking down slowly, obviously, with the cracks showing on the side. its good! Balance however, is the final moments of a similarly toxic relationship (or maybe the same one!), and i think this one works better for me, is more direct and evocative. Pink and Blue is a phenomenal song, about taking care of a newborn. the discussion of the crows and the trees outside in the verses particularly sticks out to me on this one. i have a bee in my bonnet about Riches and Wonders – its been brought to my attention that the common reading of this song is a bit more tragic than mine, that the narrator has a flaw in them that is keeping this relationship from working, but to me this song is about realizing the thing you yearn for is already there, in a way you dont realize until it becomes apparent, and it is heart-movingly beautiful. the back half of the record definitely feels different to me – quieter, more introspective, and willing to dwell a bit more. The Mess Inside feels like it’s in the same space as Fault Lines, trying and failing to stay together and recapture an old magic. Jeff Davis County Blues may be a more accurate place to put the note i made about the shift in song style here – this almost feels like a closing song. its a quiet song, and im inclined to say its about a low point, but i think its a bit too bright to commit to that reading. its a storm letting up. Distant Stations is another of my absolute faves here – there’s a kind if romanticizing being done here by someone who is absolutely unable to do anything about it. the verses are so descriptive of that failure to do anything, and the choruses here rock. Blues In Dallas always sneaks up on me. the keyboard tones are so odd, and the drum machine sounds fit them but carry some extra static in with them. neat song. Source Decay doesn’t make my list of faves off this record, but is a really cool song. it carefully pulls you in, asking you to imagine the relationship the speaker has with the sender of the postcard, try and examine the postcards with him and piece together a narrative even he’s not certain of. that train outta Bangkok really is haunting. Absolute Lithops Effect is a perfect closer. it fits snugly with the other songs here at the tail end, and it absorbs some of the grief, the isolation, the tragedy, and it promises a dawn coming. a little bit of tender, mercy.

faves – The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton, Fall of the Star High School Running Back, Color In You Cheeks, Balance, Pink and Blue, Riches and Wonders, Distant Stations
dislikes –

so i knew that early goats was collaborative but had shifted to be primarily Darnielle after Zopilote Machine, and i knew that there was a mix of tape and studio/other recordings on previous record, but based on the liner notes of the AHWT reissue Darnielle considers this one the only (well, at the time, we’ll get it it) record that really qualifies as a “one guy recording in his house” record. he’s mentioned the model of tape deck he used giving the tracks that distinctive fuzz that he views as an instrument of it’s own, and that this record was a result of it deciding to work after a period where it had been having issues (and to my knowledge, it would for years after this record). i really dig the sound, personally.

i said a lot up top in the intro but i really do adore this record. i’m not sure i can say too much beyond what ive said above in the section above about the specific tracks. i will say that even if not every song on here makes my fave list, and even if i have opinions about sequencing, the overall package coheres extremely well and its a stellar album. it spends time reflecting on trauma, on failure, on isolation, on dysfunction, and ultimately comes out the other side waiting for the bloom, arguing for a brighter future.

hail Satan

All Hail West Texas – 10/10

if you want to deep dive, partially on this record and partially on a lot of other stuff, i highly recommend season 1 of the podcast I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats, where Joseph Fink of Welcome to Nightvale fame sits down with Darnielle and talks over this record. they have some really interesting discussions about the songs specifically but also the album historically and also the songwriting process and artmaking in general. very good listen.

once again, thanks to the Mountain Goats Wiki and the Annotated Mountain Goats site.

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all my reviews for The Mountain Goats