Review Summary: 7 minutes of pure Mountain Goats music.
For someone who’s musical career has lasted only 20 years, John Darnielle has created a staggeringly huge amount of music. For someone who began his musical endeavour with a boombox and a guitar and is now accompanied by a full band and a horn section, he’s created a staggeringly huge amount of music that's actually worth listening to. Philyra doesn’t break away from the established Mountain Goats song formula or show a new side of Darnielle’s songwriting ability, but is simply a 7 minute addition to his already expansive catalogue.
Complete with stories of loneliness, lost love and monkeys in the basement, Philyra works with its simplicity. Despite its short length, the EP is filled with lines that only Darnielle’s twisted mind could possibly come up with. In “Love Cuts the Strings” he frantically sings “love pulled out the heavy artillery” and “I count my blessings, but you can only be expected to count so high.” His noticeably shaky voice coupled with the hard hitting lyrics creates the most powerful and impactful song present. The emotion that shines through in both his singing and guitar playing is what makes these songs so captivating, even if he isn’t amazing at either of those things.
Despite the fact that Darnielle has dismissed it as a “nonsense song” credit must be given to “The Monkey Song.” What starts out as a rather beautiful and reflective lyric soon turns into a strange and humorous one, as he informs us of the presence of the monkey in his basement, and afterwards questions how it arrived there. The lyric is surprising and funny, and it’s no surprise that it quickly became a fan favourite. The sudden change from multi-layered, poetic lyrics to straightforward lyrics doesn’t have the same power as songs like “The Mess Inside” however, in which he sings “Took a weekend, drove to Provo. The snow was white and fluffy. The weekend in Utah won’t fix what’s wrong with us. The grey sky was vast and real cryptic above me.” Rather than sounding like a confession it simply sounds like there’s a monkey in the basement, but there’s something gripping about the sincerity in each song on the EP.
Throughout the hundreds of Mountain Goats songs in existence very few feature complex guitar playing of any sort and “Philyra” is no different. But instead of allowing this to be a weakness, it is used to allow John’s storytelling abilities to shine. He uses his unique songwriting capability to create something intriguing and thought provoking. It’s a pure Mountain Goats album, and sits comfortably with the rest of the EP’s made during his 20 year career, rather than trying to stand above them, and that’s why it works so well.