Friday, February 27, 2004

Stylus, or at least this review of the new Mountain Goats album, makes Pitchfork look like The Dial under Marianne Moore. Had to stop counting misplaced modifiers. (The subjunctive mood, however, is correctly employed.) As in other tepid reviews I've seen, the author holds John to an impossible standard (the lyrics on Tallahassee "reach heights...rarely, if ever, equalled in pop music") before demonstrating that he has absolutely no idea why he's any good at all. The specially annoying element here is the complaint that John is repeating himself. These lines from "Letter From Belgium":

Martin calls to say he's sending old electrical equipment
That's good, we can always use some more electrical equipment

are supposed to be one of several "disgusting examples of tedium and self-plagarism," in that the use of repetition resembles the famed "Going to Georgia." First, I don't see that the device is used for similar ends in the two songs. Second, the employment of a venerable rhetorical device is hardly evidence of 'self'-plagarism.

Third, friend, if you thought it visionary that about a third of the first 250 or Mountain Goats songs feature the I-V-I-IV-I-V-I-I progression, or that at least that many set a story that could in most respects have happened anywhere in a specified place, often (not always) nailed down by place names alone, this is part of what you like/d about John, and it is not open to you to complain that he is now repeating himself. (Let's not start on the recurrence of certain rhymes.) As a card-carrying (diploma-, actually) classicist, John does not care about your modernist notions of 'originality' or 'development,' even or especially relative to his own body of work.* (He cares about: Tearing your soul out; and meter.) If anything, the sonic variety and sustained narrative specificity of the 4AD recs is in productive tension with this; so don't tell me We Shall All Be Healed is a failure because it's 'more of the same.' Funny how you've noticed this just as he stops being your little secret.

This review, on the other hand, from a site I'd never encountered before, does the best job I've seen yet of tracking what's going down on this particular MG album, and contains some insightful speculation on its possible sources. A little fan-boy stiltedness, and better on the lyrics than the music, but still, a brave and serious attempt. This is almost exactly what I thought on first hearing the songs: "A feral gang of crystal heads in a motor inn does not sound nearly as universal a subject as a couple in a hellish marriage, and it isn't: WSABH won't affect most people as direly and directly as its predecessor did, and it will take longer for listeners to find their place in it."

To summarize: If you don't think John is stepping up to the plate, big time, now that he's out of the farm team and in the show, you barely deserve pity, much less The Mountain Goats.

*At least ten years ago, John turned to me after a screening of an experimental student film, and whispered, "Let it be noted that John Darnielle, arch-antimodernist, quite enjoyed that."

Skipping two shows I might have gone to tonight (Blackalicious, Aluminum Group); thought about seeing The Dreamers instead, but I want to get up early tomorrow. Next week, probably. Half-listening to radio drama on KSRF, going over what I wrote of my Manny Farber piece before I had to abandon it in the face of dissertation demands. Hard to get back in; the next week or so is probably my last chance to finish it before the last four-to-six week run of work on the diss (expand final chapter, revisions, track down my outside member, a musicologist I've spoken to twice since my orals, though that's hardly atypical).

Going to shows lately just to enjoy them, and for 'the social' after a day of unrelated and solitary work; self-identification as 'rock critic' likely to recede (somewhat) until April. Probably healthy.

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