So, it turns out that the Mountain Goats made music before 2002. Huh! Who would’ve guessed? I mean, I had a feeling that something was going on whenever Peter and Jon would walk offstage halfway through a concert and John would step forward with his guitar, and the gathered masses would begin shouting out what seemed like a random collection of words. “Orange Ball of Hate?” “Going to Queens?” “Family Happiness?” Madness! Surely, these were the ravings of a crowd driven to hysterics by the presence of their prophet. There could be no meaning in such words!
Look, so, the embarrassing truth is that I’m just not that into the lo-fi stuff. My encyclopedic knowledge of the Mountain Goats stretches only as far back as All Hail West Texas ; everything before that is just a daunting, tangled mess in my mind, blanketed in a thick coat of tape-recording sounds. The old EPs, the cassette-only releases, even the proper albums – it’s lot to keep straight, and oh, by the way, most of it sounds like it was recorded onto a cheap boom box, which it was.
And for what it’s worth, I don’t think the songwriting is always that good. Is that alright to say? I know there are people that love this stuff – in fact, I’ve heard that some people prefer it, which is baffling to me. I’m no stranger to nostalgia, and I can only imagine how strong your bond to a musician would feel if you discovered their work when they were releasing mail-order cassette tapes through no-name California indie labels. But do you really want to throw Hot Garden Stomp up against anything from Beat The Champ? Huh? Is that you what you want to do, imaginary person?
I’m stalling. But only because I have no idea what to say about “Tahitian Ambrosia Maker” off of the Sweden album. Several sources tell me that Sweden is a “song cycle,” but like a lot of Darnielle’s early output, it sounds to me like a bunch of songs about an unhappy couple that are basically just first drafts for Tallahassee – and yes, I know that a lot of those songs are literally about the couple from Tallahassee, I’m just making a point.
Maybe I just don’t get it. Could that be what it is? I know Darnielle wrote a lot of songs back then that were basically just a delivery system for a punch line – or as humans call them, “jokes.” This song appears to be about two people lying around in a tropical climate–possibly hung-over, though that might just be me viewing them through the prism of the Alpha Couple—when one of them produces a half-loaf of bread and the other experiences a moment of intense spiritual re-awakening. Boy, when I write it out like that, it actually sounds pretty funny. I mean, it’s no “Golden Boy,” but it’s alright.
Part of the problem here is that I learned to love the Mountain Goats through the post-Tallahassee albums, so the lyrical style of the early stuff, coupled the sonic sameness of the lo-fi recording process–it’s just not a language that I understand. While there is a lazy part of me that hopes I’ll get nothing but studio tracks on the randomizer from hereon out, I do want more opportunities to think and write about the boom box era. If so many people love it—and if it was written by the same guy who wrote “The Ballad of Bull Ramos”—it’s got to be at least pretty great.
Also: I just had an awful vision of myself looking back on this entry thirty days from now and being so embarrassed that I delete it, so embarrassed that I delete this whole website, salt the earth and put up a Google.com re-direct where my front page used to be.