While The Mountain Goats’ amazing 2005 album, The Sunset Tree, would sit in any list I’d make of my favourite records of all time, I have to say I was a little unmoved by last year’s excursion into Biblically-inspired songwriting, The Life Of The World To Come. But having spent the morning watching Rian Johnson’s amazing documentary/concert movie of John Darnielle performing the album song by song I now wonder whether I’ve failed to hear what’s really there. Either way, I don’t think there’s any doubting the beauty and intensity that’s captured in Johnson’s film; certainly all the qualities of fragility and tenderness that make The Mountain Goats’ best songs so powerful are on display, but stripped back to their essence.
If you’d like a taste of the film, I’ve embedded a couple of tracks below, and if you like what you hear you can watch the whole thing over at Pitchfork TV. The only catch is it’s only available for a week, so it won’t be around for long. So I suggest you take a listen while you can: it’s wonderful stuff.
I’ve been meaning to post something about The Antlers’ fantastic debut, Hospice, since I stumbled across a copy of the original release on the band’s own label, but other things kept getting in the way. By rights I should have mentioned it in my list of my favourite music of 2009, but since then they’ve gone on to rather bigger and better things, with Hospice picked up and rereleased by French Kiss Records, and rave reviews around the world.
What’s fascinating to me about Hospice (aside from the fact it’s completely thrilling) is its self-conscious literariness. Rather than craft a series of individual songs, Antlers front-man Peter Silberman uses the album’s ten tracks to map out the intense and conflicted feelings surrounding the death of the narrator’s young wife from bone cancer.
It sounds bleak, but isn’t. Rather like John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats’ equally fabulous album about his troubled adolescence and abusive stepfather, The Sunset Tree (one of my all-time favourites) much of Hospice’s brilliance lies in its refusal to sentimentalise or mistake indulgence for integrity. But whereas The Sunset Tree is based in real experience, Hospice is essentially metaphorical, a work of fiction drawn from Silberman’s imagination. And, as a result, it manages to retain both a degree of allusiveness a more overtly confessional work would almost of necessity lack, and a coherence and shape a simple series of songs could only dream about, offering a journey through confusion and pain to loss, and finally, and improbably, a sort of catharsis.