The Mountain Goats, “Getting Into Knives”

The Mountain Goats
Getting Into Knives
MERGE
8/10

“When you see the risen beast in your nightmares, you treat him like a long lost brother / But when you pass him on the streets of the city by day / You pretend that you don’t recognize each other.” There’s something about that lyrical passage from the aggressive mix of galloping rhythms, hiccuping guitars, and jazz vibraphones that is “As Many Candles as Possible”—its surreal noir qualities, its everyday candor—that totally defines the John Darnielle we’ve always loved: the eclectically literary-pop, home-recording eccentric, and the bold, nasal, Gordon Gano–like Mountain Goats frontman. 

And while earlier in 2020 we got the chance to be reunited with his DIY former self on the bedroom-recorded Songs for Pierre Chuvin, Getting Into Knives is the sound of a pre-pandemic band going for all the weird gusto they can while throwing the kitchen sink of brassy blues pop (“Get Famous”), brushed denim skiffle (“Corsican Mastiff Stride”), and prime cut, Hammond organ–driven Memphis soul (“Harbor Me” and “Tidal Wave,” both with an assist from Hi Records organist Charles Hodges) at the wall.

Beyond this, his boldest musical palette on record yet, Darnielle moves from his usual dicey character studies to focusing on the bigger pictures—with detailed landscapes—of finding and achieving one’s goals. This oddly positivist (for Darnielle) lyrical twist turns what could be sad (a rodent lost and foraging for food into the pig-in-shit fortune of “Rat Queen”), or lost (a confused runaway bride finding focus in a bar on “Picture of My Dress”), or angry (“Wolf Count”) into the lemons and rinds of sweet, pulpy lemonade.

Anyone who feared that giving Darnielle a full-time band or throwing him into the water of professional studio sessions would harm his delicate genius, or blunt his happy-idiot wisdom, or eye for storytelling, was wrong.

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