Review Summary: The Mountain Goat's first attempt at a studio album is a depressingly enjoyable affair.
For Mountain Goats'
mastermind John Darnielle, 2002 was a year of resolution as well as a year of new beginnings. It saw the end of Darnielle's ten-plus year run of recording lo-fi gold through a Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox with the release of All Hail West Texas
and it also was the year that saw The Mountain Goats'
first in-studio release, Tallahassee
. Besides being the first Mountain Goats
album to feature a full band and a studio, Tallahassee
was their first release on the 4AD record label.
Like many Mountain Goats
is a concept album. It tells the story of a dying relationship in the Florida panhandle. The title track starts the album with the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar and Darnielle's fragile voice. Lyrically its the closest thing to an honest love song on the album, but you can still sense the tension in Darnielle's words with the bittersweet sarcasm of the last line “What did I come down here for? You...” From this point on the songs become more bitter. The upbeat rhythms of "Southwood Plantation Road" are polar opposites of to the descriptions of arguments; “Our conversations are like minefields / No one's found a safe way through one yet.” Those upbeat major chords soon fade into the somber tale of alcoholism in “Game Shows Touch Our Lives”. In it Darnielle sings “And I handed you a drink of the lovely little thing on which our survival depends / People say friends don't destroy one another.. what do they know about friends?” By the time that the song "No Children" starts to play, the mean-spirited vitriol that would seem like hyperbole out of context (“And I hope you die / I hope we both die”), begins to sound like a battle cry for the damned.
Unfortunately the tension that the album is built on, is interrupted in the second half of the album. “Peacocks”, the first of the filler tracks on the album, is not a bad song per-se, it is just that it lacks the personal angst of the rest of the album and just seems out of place. “Have to Explode” sees the return of the personal storytelling of the first half of the album. The personal disconnect of the characters is made more apparent with the lyrics “Someone's going to do something someone else will regret / I speak in smoke signals and you answer in code.” The album comes to climax with the metaphorical ramblings of the track “Oceanographer's Choice”. “Everybody's going to need a witness / Everybody's going to need a little backup in case the scene gets nasty...” Darnielle rails as the music clashes with intensity. By the time the track ends, so has the relationship that the album is based on. But not to end on a down note, the album ends with a song of hope. A hope that the past can be put behind, and that life can start anew.
, while not the best album in the long discography of The Mountain Goats
, is still one of their more enjoyable works. While the story can at times be a little overbearing and the second half of the album seems to drag a bit, Tallahassee
displays John Darnielle's talent as a lyricist and contains some of the band's best songs put to tape.