Eugene Weekly : Music : 2.21.08

Not Your Average Depressed Dude
Anthems for all our pain

In our hyper-hypochondriac culture, I’m not sure what counts as “troubled” anymore, but I’m fairly certain that John Darnielle could fit the bill. I’m no psychiatrist, but the Mountain Goats’ main man has a musical résumé that would seem to satisfy any crisis-counseling checklist. Has he composed a concept album about a dysfunctional couple who move to Tallahassee and drink themselves to death? Check. Has he written a gut-wrenching, sonic memoir about his drunken abusive stepfather? Check. Has he penned the bleak soundtrack to the brokenhearted days after his girlfriend left him? Check. Any one of these might get your average mental case placed on suicide watch, but Darnielle is by no means your average mental case. As the sole songwriter for the Mountain Goats, he has a knack for making the miserable endearing and the disturbing downright enjoyable. As far as I know, not many musicians could inspire people to skip down the streets caroling at the top of their lungs, “And I hope you die … I hope we all die,” but that seems perfectly appropriate in the dark yet droll world of John Darnielle.

The majority of the Mountain Goats’ 12 or so albums (and that’s not counting seven inches, bootlegs and other ephemera) are less conceptual and/or autobiographical than Darnielle’s last four records. Most consist of character sketches about anyone from Cassius Clay to Leo Tolstoy to LeAnn Rimes and quiraky vignettes about anything from cooking to gardening to death metal bands. On his new album, Heretic Pride, Darnielle returns to the episodic skits-ophrenia that defined his earlier lo-fi, tape hiss days, but he hangs on to the glossy production that’s graced his most recent records. Over cellos, pianos and punchy guitars, the songwriter sings in his high-pitched, highly literate voice about pulp spy novelists, scandalous love affairs, slasher films and breakup sex … and that’s just getting started. On “San Bernardino,” the cinematic orchestration and plucked strings help unfold the story of a young unmarried couple giving birth in a cheap motel off a California desert highway. “Lovecraft in Brooklyn” is Darnielle’s take on the horror writer’s move to New York City, and the song’s careening tempo and dissonant, howling strings evoke the paranoia and xenophobia in Lovecraft’s life and works at the time. The poppy, organ-accented “Autoclave” draws parallels between the sterilizing instrument and people who smother their emotions. Darnielle sings in his distinct sardonic phrasing, “I am this great unstable mass of blood and foam / And no emotion that’s worth having can call my heart its home / My heart’s an autoclave.” Like most Mountain Goats material, the song is sad, happy and slightly unhinged. In other words, it’s just another anthem for our collective crises.

The Mountain Goats, Jeffrey Lewis & The Jitters. 9 pm Wednesday, Feb. 27. WOW Hall. $12 adv./$15 door