The Mountain Goats

Get Lonely

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Coming off of the two strongest, most fully realized -- and most harrowing -- albums of his career, in particular The Sunset Tree, which helped bring him to the attention of a larger audience, John Darnielle (who's somewhat better known as the Mountain Goats) took something of a career digression with a record that, while retaining the production clarity and expanded instrumental palette of his 4AD output to date, marked a clear withdrawal, if not in quality, certainly in scope, from its phenomenal predecessors. Thematically at least, Get Lonely is the sparest, bleakest record in the Mountain Goats' discography. Much was made of the unprecedentedly autobiographical content of The Sunset Tree and We Shall All Be Healed, and it is true that they conveyed a sustained emotional potency that was largely new to Darnielle's repertory, but both contained so many lyrical loose ends, disjointed perspectives, and ambiguous imagery that it was difficult if not impossible to glean any consistent context in them, let alone a coherent through-line. Get Lonely, on the other hand, is practically monotonous in its lyrical focus. Every one of its songs features a first-person narrator in a state of desolation, near-desperation, solitude (always), and grappling, more or less explicitly, with the psychic effects of recent loss: extreme listlessness, emotional paralysis, intermittent attempts at deterministic redirection; nightmarish delirium. In most of them, almost nothing happens; the plot of "Wild Sage" consists of its protagonist leaving the house, walking outside, falling down by the side of the highway, and lying there. Sometimes he can't even leave the house. It's a break-up album -- an almost uncharacteristically straightforward conceit for Darnielle -- the chronicle of a person dealing (or attempting to deal, at least on his best days) with loneliness, grief, and the pangs of memory. Whether or not it's a literal chronicle of a period in Darnielle's life (he had, at the time of its release, been married for many years) is irrelevant; forgiving a slight turn for the phantasmagoric towards the end of the album (before its ultimate, resigned submersion into the Atlantic in the graceful, serene "In Corolla,"). It's hard to deny the fundamental, emotional truth contained in these songs, especially as it's conveyed in his uninflected, almost painfully restrained delivery. It's not all unrelentingly somber -- "Half Dead" and "Woke Up New" strive for a sort of resolute pragmatism, with musical backing that could almost be described as sprightly, though their plain and plaintive lyrics ultimately belie their hummable ditty-like choruses. And the churning, jazzy percussion of "New Monster Avenue" and brass band swagger of "If You See Light" provide welcome instrumental relief that befits their fanciful, imagistic lyrical tone. But these are almost necessary respites, since at its darkest and starkest, which is much of the time -- particularly on the central quartet of the shell-shocked title track, the spirit-haunted "Maybe Sprout Wings," the hallucinatory "Moon Over Goldsboro," and the agitated "In the Hidden Places," Get Lonely is nothing short of devastating. These songs may be primarily built around uncomplicated acoustic guitar parts (with judicious instrumental embellishments), but they're a far cry from the rudimentary lo-fi zeal and nervous energy of Darnielle's early years -- he's become significantly more sophisticated since then, as a composer, a writer, and an observer of the human condition, and this is in many ways his most mature work to date.

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