From being just a one-man band with a cassette deck boombox in the early nineties, John Darnielle has evolved his band The Mountain Goats into a four-piece whose material has featured in hit series including The Walking Dead. Whilst Getting into Knives is the third LP this California formed band has released since 2019 (and the second this year); this latest offering, is extra special in many ways.
Firstly, it was recorded in the same Memphis studio where The Cramps “tracked their 1980 debut album”, secondly, Getting into Knives features Al Green’s organist Charles Hodges. One of the tracks, the sophomore “Get Famous” is the first song in five years to receive its own music video which “uses custom-made Mountain Goats bobbleheads (sic) to tell a story that mirrors John Darnielle’s lyrics about the pitfalls of fame”.
Opening with a short and sweet happy country and blues hootenanny dancing song “Corsican Mastiff Stride”; the listener is then immediately led into “Get Famous” which instantly wins one over with infectious organ chords and gorgeous variations of the saxophone which are comparable to those from Beck’s “Sexx Laws”. Whilst “Get Famous” is up-tempo; it is also cool in a suave and understated way. Furthermore, the following lyrics “Light up the sky like a comet. Make yourself want to vomit. Shine like a cursed star. Show everybody exactly who you are” truly reflect upon the poised chalice that is known as fame.
Whilst Darnielle does not reference Belle and Sebastian; several of the songs produce vocals that reminisce Stuart Murdoch’s. The first of these is “Picture of my Dress” which references Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler. Likewise, “Pez Dorato” is a nice, pleasant acoustic guitar-led country-folk ballad. The greatest, possibly Murdock inspired tracks are “Tidal Wave” and the playout “Getting into Knives”. The former entices with slow, repetitive piano and bass loops with accompanying bassoon and a plethora of juxtaposed string instruments whilst the latter is truly spiritual and mystical. One feels that they are escaping the perils of modern times as the guitar is doubled up as a drum alongside sweet organ chords.
The essence of mysticism is most potent on a song about idol worship and “living like the ancients” called “The Great Gold Sheep” (not to be confused with the manga trilogy “The Golden Sheep” by Kaori Ozaki). Whilst “The Great Gold Sheep” would undoubtedly provoke an act of vandalism by biblical Abraham; this song nonetheless is motivating and has an emotionally and peacefully reassuring aura about it. Equally mystical is the introduction to The Shins indie inspired “Bell Swamp Connection”.
With Charles Hodges featuring on this LP, there are some impressive organ contributions. The use of the organ (along with the piano) peaks across the tenacious “As Many Candles as Possible” offering the interesting life lesson of “When stray dogs finally catch you in the alley you don’t consider their point of view when the wounds are healed, and the scars are shiny sometimes then you do” and the upbeat and galvanising “Rat Queen” about “dead sleepwalkers who never learned how to love”. The most bizarre piano contribution on this LP features across “Wolf Count” with loops not too dissimilar to Simply Red’s “Stars”.
This bands’ name The Mountain Goats is a reference to the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins song “Yellow Coat” which contains the lyrics “Twenty Mountain Goats”. Whilst neither the vocals nor the musical inspiration for Getting into Knives bares any resemblance to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins; John Darnielle is nonetheless consistently honest by writing about his own truth. The fact that this carefully crafted effort was recorded in just one week is also impressive.