The Music Meme: Day 29

Day 29: A song currently stuck in your head

For this prompt, obviously, there's no choice involved. You go with the song currently rattling around in your skull whether it's one you feel strongly about or not. As it happens, however, the song stuck in my head is one I'm very fond of, by an artist I like very much. Kelly turned me on to the Mountain Goats probably ten years ago, mostly by obsessing over Tallahassee and its bizarrely cheerful anthem of Hopeless Bleak Despair, "No Children." (Let me just say that you really haven't lived until you've been standing in a concert venue with a thousand other people lustily singing "I hope you die/ I hope we both die!" at the top of your lungs.) But as I soon began to recognize, the Goats have a lot more to offer than catharsis with a shot of irony.

Anchored by prolific songwriter (and novelist) John Darnielle, the band is arguably a one-man act, but whether you use "it" or "them" or even "he," there's no question that you won't like the Mountain Goats if you don't like Darnielle's voice. It's a little too nasal, or too enunciated, or too something, for a lot of people, and given my own issues with different voices, I am sympathetic, but at the same time unpersuaded. To me the careful enunciation serves to cut through the background noise of the song, lending a valuable clarity to the lyrics, and for all Darnielle's gifts with melody, lyrics are his raison d'etre.

Treading the same fine line that Billy Bragg walks, by which I mean that between big emotional statements and specific bits of imagery, Darnielle is a gifted observer who rarely needs to craft an unusual rhyme to create an arresting verse. Instead, he just lays out a few details to capture your attention: the bottle of St. Joseph's baby aspirin and the Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers... the guy in the skeleton costume... the hawks descending on the rabbit... the smear of Tiger Balm on Sonny Liston's glove... all the little bricks that help build the edifice of the song.

In "Damn These Vampires," those bricks include the hiss of the turbines, the high beams in the rain, and of course the beautiful blue muscle car. If I ever form a Mountain Goats tribute band, which is not beyond the realm of possibility for someone with my track record, it will almost certainly be called the Sapphire Trans-Ams. The themes of addiction, debasement, and faint, distant hope are all lurking in those details, woven in amongst the chiming piano chords and the high-register bass work. It's a beautiful piece of work, this song, and I for one welcome it to my head.

And this time tomorrow? Something else will have crawled in, like a burly baby cuckoo, to shove it out.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on September 4, 2017 7:55 AM.

The Music Meme: Day 28 was the previous entry in this blog.

The Music Meme: Finale is the next entry in this blog.

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