Review Summary: John Darnielle finds ways to make you relate to things only he could ever dream of going through.
The Babylon Springs EP is a mostly familiar but still brilliant entry into The Mountain Goats' discography. Although it doesn't exactly break any new ground by Mountain Goats standards, they're still the only band in existence that can start an album off with a story about a man who's private plane was dumped into a swamp. And from there John does what he does best; wild, spiralling and complex stories to convey the simplest of emotions. "Ox Baker Triumphant" borders on humorous and sad, but by the time the chorus arrives, uplifting. The simple guitar work and continually building vocals make for a seemingly simple song on the surface, just like his lyrics often do.
"Alibi" is more of the same. Darnielle focuses on the smaller details of his story to build up to larger ones
(Moon over West Covina/was huge and white/and I was like a patient on a table/headed toward the light) as the still simple music progresses, with especially effective guitar work. It's hard not to be amazed by just how entertaining these songs are, and as you discover hidden depth behind every lyric and hidden layers under every chord it's hard to believe these stories aren't true. In fact I often wonder if any are.
The title track features beautiful piano work and a chorus that sounds like it came right off of The Sunset Tree, but it's the next track, 'Sometimes I Still Feel the Bruise' that I found startling. Not because it had particularly brilliant lyrics or revolutionary guitar playing, but because of its simplicity. Gone are the brilliant poignant metaphors Darnielle so often utilizes, or even a story at all. Rather, it's just a simple sad song about a man who loved someone who didn't love him back. The fact that lyrics that would be seen as average or mediocre for any other lyricist are so striking says something about his unique songwriting style, one that seems to be glued to almost every Mountain Goats song there is. I later learned that it's actually a cover, but it still proved something about his lyrical style, and I developed a new appreciation for it in the process.
"Wait for You" is the closer to an album that in many ways feels like a starter's guide to the Mountain Goats, which is surprising considering just how many albums they had made at the time of its release. The track conveys the same emotion as the last one, but does it the normal John Darnielle way, which provides a sense of comfort. Few if any songwriters today can deliver lines that convey the same kind of loneliness as "watching water through the windows." The simple music - just a guitar - fits the song, in that it describes a simple feeling through lyrics that are anything but simple. In the end, Babylon Springs serves as a reminder of who The Mountain Goats are. Five songs, simple as always, that work because of it. A perfect mix of confessions, sarcasm, humour, and sadness. It isn't unique compared to anything they've done in the past, but it's a Mountain Goats album, and nobody else does anything like it.