The Mountain Goats/Dark In Here/Merge
3.5 Stars out of Five
The fact that The Mountain Goats’ new opus, Dark In Here, comes so quickly on the heels of three very recent albums released over the past 15 months alone—Getting Into Knives, Songs for Pierre Chuvin and the digital only The Jordan Lake Sessions—speaks volumes about their prolific prowess. In truth, many of the songs on the new record were outgrowths of the March 2020 sessions that initially spawned Getting Into Knives, but even so, the fact that the Durham North Carolina-based quartet has released no less than 20 albums over the course of their 27 year career affirms the fact that this band is never short on inspiration or motivation.
Nevertheless, it never hurts to have some additional impetus and in this case, it came in the form of Fame Studios, the storied recording studio located in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It’s the place that found soul greats Etta James, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin—among many others—recording some of the most iconic songs of the past 60 years. It’s also a locale where artists still come to make music that shares in that hallowed historic tradition. These particular sessions were graced by local legend, songwriter and Hammond organ ace Spooner Oldham and guitarist Will McFarlane, each of whom add to the atmospheric embellishment on the album.
Singer and songwriter John Darnielle claims that the overall theme is all about calamity, both past and present. That’s certainly an ominous proposition, and indeed the titles of certain songs (“The Destruction of the Superdeep Borehole Tower,” “Dark In Here,” “When a Powerful Animal Comes,”“Let Me Bathe in Demonic Light”) suggest there is, in fact, a scary scenario at play. However, the music doesn’t necessarily underscore that intended effect. Granted, the snappy uptempo opener “Parisian Enclave” makes an emphatic opening impression, while the aforementioned “The Destruction of the Superdeep Borehole Tower” adds extra urgency. On the other hand, any unsettling intent is tempered by the reassuring lilt of “Mobile” and “Before I Got There,” the soothing tones of “When a Powerful Animal Comes” and “To the Headless Horseman,” the cooing harmonies that play off Darnielle’s hyper vocals amidst the free fall and sprawl of “Lizard Suit,” the acoustic accompaniment of “Arguing with the Ghost of Peter Laughner,” and the surprisingly light-hearted delivery of “The Slow Parts on Death Metal Albums” and “Let Me Bathe in Demonic Light.”
It’s those apparent contradictions that make The Mountain Goats the intriguing ensemble it is. So too, it’s another reason why the darkness dissipates so quickly.