Sometimes a record just comes along that works for you. The season, the songs, your biology -- the timing is right, and all is aligned. Over the past few weeks I've found that The Mountain Goats' new "Goths" is that for me. It's not a revelation-- I've loved the unique songs and delivery of John Darnielle for a long time now, and I always expect exceptional work. But this one has sunk its understated black hooks in and threatens to never let go. Truth is, there are few things I love in life more than when musicians I love cover, reference and write songs about other musicians I love. So with Mountain Goats + The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie & The Banshees, etc., sign me up!
But that's just the foundational part of it. One thing "Goths" is not is a musical homage to those heroes -- the sonic elements could hardly be less "goth." On top of that, it's the first Mountain Goats record not to include a guitar. Darnielle relies on keys and small orchestration to form the meat of the songs, which meditate on the past, present, and future state of the goth subculture.
And that's where the real spoils lie. For a record about people who prefer to wear black, there sure a lot of instances of lyrical gold. It helps if you're of a certain age, no doubt, but one doesn't need to be from Southern California to sense why a line like "Outside it's 92 degrees/ And K-R-O-Q is playing Siouxsie & the Banshees" conveys magic.
The track featured on this month's playlist, "Abandoned Flesh," reflects upon the forgotten goth bands of days gone by, recognizing that for every Cure and Siouxsie, there's a Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and The Bolshoi. Most of the time is spent lamenting Gene Loves Jezebel ("Because the world will never know or understand / The suffocated splendor/ Of the once and future goth band"), and anyone who knows my love for GLJ's "Desire (Come and Get It)" can tell you why this speaks to me. But I digress.
I always love to hear an album that begins by asserting itself from the needle's drop. Opening cuts. Slowdive's "Slomo" wasn't available for streaming for last month's playlist, but it's here now-- a gorgeous, shimmering, expansive track that quickly puts to rest any trepidation we may have felt before hearing the band's first album in 22 years. Elsewhere, fellow Brits Happyness recently returned with the follow-up to their 2014 debut, the fantastic new "Write In," and opening cut "Falling Down" is a melodic, melancholic winner. Denver folks have a chance to catch Happyness live soon, as they'll be at Lost Lake Lounge this Monday.
That's just three from a slightly super-sized playlist of 35 this month that features plenty of other notable highlights:
The returns of several artists we hadn't hear from in a while, including The National, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Grizzly Bear, !!!, Chromatics (featured in Twin Peaks' return episode), and Don Bryant, who's dedicated his first soul release in over 45 years to his wife, the famed soul singer Ann Peebles.
A number of new names here announcing their arrival in impressive fashion. See: Aldous Harding, Hoops, Bedouine, Blue House, Korgy & Bass, and Girl Ray, among others.
The first song from the Fairport Convention-referencing Offa Rex, who is singer-songwriter Olivia Chaney backed up by the whole of The Decemberists. "Which Will" is Amber Arcades' very different take on the Nick Drake classic, from her new EP "Cannonball." Beach Fossils' "Tangerine," from their upcoming "Somersault," is not a Led Zeppelin cover, but features Slowdive's Rachel Goswell on vocals. Baio is the solo project of Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio. Lo Tom is the super group from members of Pedro the Lion and Starflyer (the history is a bit complicated, but here's a handy flow chart).
Waking Life is best enjoyed set to shuffle.
As always, I'd love to know what you think about all or any of this month's playlist. Get at me in the comments here or Twitter.