Artist – The Mountain Goats
Album – Tallahassee
Year – 2002
Genre – Indie Folk
Bands like The Mountain Goats and artists like their frontman John Darnielle are hard to find, and I admire them very much. I respect them because of Darnielle’s amazing penchant for incredible songs that utilize stream of consciousness lyric writing. Just like The Front Bottoms (https://merrymuzak.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/38-swimming-pool/), Darnielle knows how to take the most common man expressions of anger, sadness, loneliness, and pain and translate those phrases that we utter to ourselves as we lay our heads down on the pillow or stand in the shower and put those words into a song. A damn fine song, at that. It’s a very hard skill to master, but it makes for the most volatile and potent form of songwriting there is.
Despite the instruments and vocals lining up with the folk genre, there’s this whole sense of frustration and just sheer blitzing anger that can be felt as soon as the furious guitar strums begin the song. The very weird chord progression sounds amazing and creates this very pervasive melancholic mood. Not only that, but the piano played over the top add a whole layer of sadness to the intro.
Darnielle’s voice matches perfectly with the tone of the song. He’s very melodic, but you feel every word like a punch to the gut. His melodies are very catchy in this song, and his matter of fact vocal style build this rapport with the listener. Though there is a “chorus” section in the song, I tend to look at the song as a whole tone poem-esque piece. There’s some really triumphant and chill inducing notes in each verse and chorus, as Darnielle sings his heart out. This is one his most intense songs, and it shows every time he opens his mouth.
Then, there’s the way I interpret the song. The lyrics of the song deal with a couple that’s going through a terrible message, and they’re too far gone to even split. It’s about deep feelings of weariness and anger that just gather inside, but never reach the surface. I hope all of you out there are not in this particular situation, as I know I can’t relate to the lyrics on a literal level. However, I’ve been going through a period of great emotional frustration and weariness myself, as I think many of us out there do, so the song to me is a cathartic listening experience. As Darnielle lets out all this stress and frustration, I feel a connection with him.
Our friends say it’s darkest before the sun rises
We’re pretty sure they’re all wrong
I am drowning, there is no sign of land
As dark as these words are, they are the most relatable in the song, at least for me. Sometimes we hear our friends say that everything will be alright, and sometimes we don’t believe them. We feel like we really are drowning in whatever problems we face. I know I’m an optimistic person by nature, so I believe that problems and sadness will always be healed, but sometimes it’s really hard to think that way in the moment. Like the moment I’m writing this now. That’s why this is such a powerful song.
Getting back to musicality, there’s some amazing harmonies in this song. Darnielle is a very good singer, and he’s arranged the song beautifully. He’s also quite the guitar player. Believe me, it’s hard to keep up that quick strumming pace the way he does from start to finish. Even though the song has a generally sad tone, you can’t help but feel some glimmer of hope by the end. Maybe not lyrically, but musically. The abrupt, major chord ending gives this lingering belief of something better in the end. I think that’s what Darnielle is hoping for. Me too.
Thanks for reading, as always! Be sure to let me know what you think of the song in the comments!