hello folks! today we’re gonna be taking a look at In League With Dragons, the 2019 record from the Mountain Goats!

im not in love with Done Bleeding as an opener. i think id really prefer a track like Younger in a slot like this – part of that might be that i prefer Younger generally, but i think both have the same kind of “slowly build a vibe” approach and it undercuts Done Bleeding a bit to reset and do it again on Younger. Younger is a track that i go back and forth on. i think maintaining that kind of tense vibes for the whole 6 minutes is tough and there are a few weaker parts, but i think overall im really fond of it. Passaic 1975 is about Ozzy Osbourne’s drug issues while touring – funny tonal way to approach the subject matter, but between the chorus and the “tonight Passaic, tomorrow the world” line its a neat track. i really like Clemency for the Wizard King – i can absolutely picture acolytes in robes moving in secret for a plea like this. i enjoy it. i also really like Possum By Night, a soaring epic about, well, a possum at night. John Darnielle provides a very fun vocal performance for the topic with some very good piano to accompany, and the flourishes from the drums are really nice. In League With Dragons introduces a bit of country flourish that’ll show up elsewhere on this record – i like that part of it but im pretty middling on the track here. definitely appreciate what Doc Gooden is doing with those country influences musically, but with the exception of a few very solid lines im not huge on the song lyrically. i will admit that my grudge against Going Invisible 2 is stupid – in the second season of the podcast I Only Listen To the Mountain Goats, they did a bunch of demos from this album as the bonus songs, and this track was one where i vastly, vastly prefer the demo. you let me know what you think. Waylon Jennings Live! is my fave off this record, no questions asked. excellent song. really committing to the country guitar bit. Cadaver Sniffing Dog feels a tad odd – having the guitar solo so early and such a long outro mean the song has real odd pacing. Antidote For Strychnine is a very interesting track. i like the organ-y keyboard, and the chorus is very catchy. neat. Sicilian Crest is compelling. i really like this one, and while its an odd closer i think it works. definitely tapping into the same vibes of Clemency for the Wizard King, but someone a bit more sinister in how bright it is?

faves – Younger, Clemency for the Wizard King, Possum by Night, Waylon Jennings Live!, Sicilian Crest
dislikes –

the thing about this album is that while it has some really really good parts, this feels like a few solid concept jammed together, and the seams really show. there’s a few things here – Younger and Cadaver Sniffing Dog preempt a bit of the sounds of Bleed Out, Passaic 1975 and Doc Gooden tell some historical stories of performers a la Beat the Champ, there’s country tracks in Doc Gooden, Waylon Jennings Live, and In League with Dragons and then there’s a fun bit of like, menacing hero worship in Clemency and Sicilian Crest. the unifying lyrical throughline is the concept of aging – this is a reflective album, but in a much more wistful way than some of Darnielle’s other past-facing records. i’ve seen this described as being themed around tabletop games like DnD (and that connection was part of the rollout of the record), but i think that’s a weak theming with tracks like Passaic and Doc Gooden – i could even see tracks like Possum By Night and Antidote for Strychnine fitting a role playing theme, but i’m not really sure how those two would fit that theme (unless it is literally as pulled back of a theme as “playing a role”).

honestly, i feel like i would’ve liked a tighter musical focus – the idea of a tabletop RPG album in the way that Beat the Champ was a wrestling album is a cool idea, i think that wouldn’t have bothered me if i feel like the topics moving all over the place but the music knocked it out of the part, but i feel like that kind of mis-match in components bleeds down to the song level. Antidote and Younger show it the most to me, as the longest tracks on the record, in that the movements between the parts of the tracks don’t work as well for me. dunno.

and like, there are things i really like here – the story telling is good on the tracks that are historical and those that aren’t, and Darnielle really knows how to write a chorus and a hook, but on the whole, this one doesn’t live up to its promise for me.

In League With Dragons – 6/10

next week, we’re gonna be taking a look at the record released during pandemic lockdown, Songs for Pierre Chuvin!

support the band by checking this album out on Bandcamp!

the beginning: Zopilote Machine | previous: Goths | next: Songs for Pierre Chuvin

all my reviews for The Mountain Goats