hello folks! our album this week is the ninth studio record from The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree. based on the material around this album, this record deals primarily with John Darnielle’s relationship with his late step-father, and the abuse that occurred in his home growing up. let’s check it out –

You or Your Memory is about contemplating some dark action and having a moment of clarity. narratively a very interesting song to open on, and the prominent keys on this song create a very interesting tone that will be felt through the whole record. Broom People has some WILD bass creating an uneasy undercurrent – lyrically, it describes a fucked home life, and a relationship that the narrator is taking comfort in, when nobody else knows about it. This Year is one of my favorite Mountain Goats songs. every piece of the song, from vocals to the piano to the guitar are all moving together in beautiful tandem, and the narrative suggested by the song of desperate determination is so excellent. i read at least one interpretation of this song that described it as hopeful and like, kinda? the piano and crescendo of the song suggests some kind of positive movement but everything else suggests a dogged drive to make it through, not matter what, and while i find solace in that emotion, while i connect to it and find hope that it exists, i dunno that id call the track overall hopeful, haha. Dilaudid is an incredibly dark track – the looping cello movements hang over the song, and it really lend a context to the “twin high maintenance machines” line in This Year. Dance Music was one of the songs that was in like, the second wave of Goats songs i got into, after the major hits. this is a phenomenal song. this track captures so much – the generational trauma, the ways the breakdown in understanding of healthy relationships carries over into your other experiences, the ways available to cope in extreme situations and the place music has in at least the narrator, but definitely also Darnielle’s, life. it also is extremely upfront about the ways Darnielle’s step-father was abusive – Broom People and This Year were both about that but if it wasnt clear at this point it definitely is. Dinu Lipatti’s Bones is a quieter moment here at the midpoint. i think this one’s fine. Up the Wolves was another one, like Dance Music, that i didnt get into until a bit later, and its another one of the greats. the way the track crests into the emotional yells of the second chorus, its just entrancing and beautiful. also interesting in the context of the record the lack of piano. Lion’s Teeth has a similarly oppressive vibe to Dilaudid, but where that track definitely felt like blocking things out, Lion’s Teeth is about confrontation and violence, with accompaniment to match. what’s really interesting to me is the way the chorus contrasts with the verses – there is a moment in the next song that is about a precursor to this moment. Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod is another phenomenal track – there’s a synthesis here of Dance Music and Lion’s Teeth that is very very moving. this song also has a phenomenal “twist” to it, where the last line creates a kind of recontextualization, in terms of its relationship to the title and the suggestion it makes about the rest of the album. the post-chorus guitar work on Magpie kicks ass, and its neat how it goes back down to the lighter instrumentation afterwards – Darnielle’s voice in the mixing feels tinny and strange, small and desperate. Song For Dennis Brown is an interesting, post We Shall All Be Healed, as its a look at some of the self-destructive tendencies that will play out in full on that album (Dilaudid also handled this, but in a slightly different approach). Love Love Love is a beautifully tragic song, about the things done in the name of love. it is so soft and understanding in it’s approach. a wonderful song. Pale Green Things ends the record on a hopeful note – there is a lot of discussion of abuse, of anger, or pain and damage, but in a lot of cases there’s perspective on moving through, of finding bright moments, and it feels appropriate that in this final moment, Darnielle chooses to share that despite it all, he remembered a happy moment with his step-father upon learning of his passing, rather than the abuse. i think Darnielle is a bit perplexed there as well, wondering why that was the moment that first came to mind, but i feel like the decision to close the record with that feeling is ultimately a positive, and as i said, hopeful one.

faves – This Year, Dance Music, Up the Wolves, Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod, Magpie, Love Love Love
dislikes –

well, i feel like as with All Hail West Texas, my opinion of this record is influenced by my knowledge of the tracks going in – it’s hard not to really appreciate an album that has This Year, Up the Wolves, and Love Love Love, just by themselves. that being said, i really really do love this record as a package. Darnielle is tackling something incredibly difficult here, reflecting on the abuse he suffered, his reactions to it, and the ways it still effects him. i think dealing with that kind of generational trauma, and the approach that prioritizing reflection and healing, makes for an extremely affective record. i also really appreciated this note, found in the liner notes:

Made possible by my stepfather, Mike Noonan (1940 – 2004):
may the peace which eluded you in life be yours now

The Sunset Tree – 9/10

next week, we’re checking out record ten, Get Lonely!

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

support the band by checking this album out on Bandcamp!

the beginning: Zopilote Machine | previous: We Shall All Be Healed | next: Get Lonely

all my reviews for The Mountain Goats