For the most part, Get Lonely
is one song – one long folk song about spending a month of a weekend indoors on your own, surveying each inch of your house until you have literally done everything except engage with your gutted brain. If you’re wondering why this record frustrates everyone you’ve talked to, it’s because this is the record where John Darnielle is staring, rather than thinking. This is the Mountain Goats record where every chord is much of a muchness, because John Darnielle spends most of it looking under chairs, which we often do for TV remotes and spare change, but rarely the way this man does – for people. “Is anyone out there?”, he shouts to the padding and the cushions. They are apologetic.
There’s only one moment on the record when, quite frighteningly, our residential agoraphobiac gets up from his living room, rises and becomes urgent – and even then, the moment is being imagined, not experienced. The opening lyric to “If You See Light”, a jitterbug of a song that keeps this sleepy record awake, is “When
the villagers come”. It’s not “they have come”. If you’ve ever had melodrama accidentally transpire in your head while you’re not paying attention to the workings of your mind, then “If You See Light” is for you, a ferocious, half stabilised piece of rock music about a moment you wish were happening – just because it’s any moment other than the long one you’re living through.
My favourite of these songs is “Woke Up New”, which literalises what I’ve said about the record: as far as Darnielle’s stories go, it’s one of the most minimal, a bottle show about walking around your house when there’s no one sitting at the kitchen table. Darnielle’s doing laps around the first floor of his house, for the audience: “and an astronaut could have seen the hunger in eyes from space”. Do you ever try to stop yourself from having a thought half way through having it? You probably have an audience too.
Maybe people like Get Lonely
less because it’s a collection of dead end songs about not having stories to tell. “What do I do without you?” isn’t much of a story – in the space of this record, it’s a rhetorical question, but Darnielle is also asking it to you. It’s not character to character – it’s singer to listener. That’s the worst – that’s the reason I don’t stand in the front row at shows. What if the band make fun of me?
I think this is the best Mountain Goats album because it has the biggest return on similes: every half a minute Darnielle will connect one of his movements to a person, animal or object that he is “like”. Darnielle is the best at comparing bad situations to wishlists. My favourites are the ones that imply escapism, a place outside of these four walls where hands are held: “I leave the house as soon as it gets light outside / like a prisoner breaking out of jail”. That one happens in the space between futility and joy, which is Get Lonely
in a nutshell. Of course, like all Darnielle lyics, I don’t quite believe it’s based on fact – the idea that he’d leave the house at all during Get Lonely
’s runtime feels like a poetic lie. He couldn’t possibly leave the house that piano lives in.
It’s not all that nice to listen to. It’s called Get Lonely
. It’s the winner of Album With The Least Vocal Harmonies Ever. It exists accidentally on purpose, like a superhero revealing his secret identity to his crush. And you’ve heard it all before – just not this quiet.