A Mountain Goats wrestling album was strangely inevitable. As followers of the band’s frontman John Darnielle on Twitter will know he’s a big sports fan. As followers of their music will also know Darnielle loves to spin a good yarn and wrestling is certainly full of plenty of tales.
Darnielle’s focus here is primarily the characters involved in the sport, both the wrestlers themselves and the fans like him, who as a young boy watched in awe as his heroes tumbled around for glory.
South Western Territory and The Legend of Chavo Guerro offer a bold pair of openers, one painting a melancholy picture of one local wrestler making ends meet and the other a passionate ode to Darnielle’s childhood hero Guerro.
There’s tragedy too on this album. Luna, about a fire in 2010 that destroyed much of veteran female wrestler Luna Vachon’s possessions, is exceptional in its sadness, with Jon Wurster’s shuffling drums and jazz feel offering hope for Luna when all seems lost.
Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan, about the murder of Bruiser Brody, is another weepie, albeit an action packed one, and once again Wurster’s emotive drumming shines through here.
There’s a lot of familiar territory for Darnielle in wrestling. A common theme, in particularly on The Mountain Goats’ 2011 album All Eternals Deck, is the metaphorical masks people wear to hide away from trauma.
Here the masks are also very real as well as symbolic, in particular on Animal Mask and Werewolf Gimmick. Bull Ramos, who features towards the end of story, is another of these mask stories, as he is seemingly fighting for his life in surgery and clings to his carefully crafted image of the brave wrestler with the bull whip throughout.
Musically Darnielle’s arrangements continue to get ever more complex, as elements of classical, jazz and of course the folk and indie rock that the band are most associated with intertwine here.
Darnielle continues to have a fine ear for melody too, although here the killer tunes are back loaded towards the end of the album, with Luna among many picks in its latter stages. In contrast the first half is let down by inconsistency. The Legend of Chavo Guerro is full of driving energy and passion, while Foreign Object and the too long Heel Turn 2 feel more like album fillers.
These are minor gripes though on another album from The Mountain Goats that continues to shine the spotlight on the incredible resilience, wonder and frailty of human beings, from hulking costumed lumps tying each other knots to the wide eyed kids in awe of them.
by Joe Lepper