Given the world has gone insane due to the pandemic, many bands have struggled to release albums this year. Incredibly, The Mountain Goats are just about to release their third album, Dark in Here, amid the chaos of Covid-19.
Their run started in April 2020 with the release by the band’s frontman and songwriter John Darnielle of Songs for Pierre Chuvin. It marked a return to his early boombox recordings, was a surprise album hit and raised vital funds for the Mountain Goats cohort of workers, laid up by lockdown.
Then in October 2020 the full band Getting Into Knives was released. Its beautifully produced, in Memphis pre-lockdown.
They are back again with Dark In Here, this time recorded amid lockdown and at the legendary FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
It was booked in for recording pre-Covid. Its aim was to be a complementary album to Getting Into Knives, recorded straight after.
“Quieter, Smokier, but more deeply textured and intense,” was the aim, according to the band.
Quarantined in Muscle Shoals
This has been achieved, especially by being, as the band puts in, “quarantined in Muscle Shoals” in their pandemic bubble.
It is perhaps even more beautiful sounding than Getting Into Knives, especially with the band’s multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas on fine form.
“By the time we got to Alabama, it was clear that the ground around us was quickly shifting, and that the world to which we’d be returning afterwards would be an unrecognizable one,” says bassist Peter Hughes.
“But the studio, even during completely ordinary times, is a singularly immersive thing. You’re basically in a bubble with a handful of your closest friends, working 12 hours a day, so focused on the task at hand that most of the time you forget that the outside world even exists.”
The “banger”, as he puts it, is second track The Destruction of the Superdeep Kola Borehole Tower.
It’s one of the band’s best ever tracks, one of those driven by menacing, foreboding rhythm from the band’s drummer Jon Wurster, coupled with the heart of Darnielle’s story telling and vocals and the warmth of a Fender Rhodes to compliment the arrangement. Its classic modern Mountain Goats. Also, listen closer towards the end for some fine fret work from Hughes.
Many of the other tracks fit the quieter, smokier remit, with Mobile and Dark In Here standing proudest amongst them. The latter reminds me of Giant Sand in terms of twangmanship.
Special mention to the Slow Parts on Death Metal Albums. A wonderful song and the most Mountain Goats’ album title imaginable.
The story behind Dark in Here and its recording, as well as my own post pandemic love for quieter music, is making this one of my favourites by the band.
By Joe Lepper
The Mountain Goats – Dark in Here is released June 25.