In League With Dragons is the seventeenth album by The Mountain Goats. This one sees John Darnielle and co. continuing their 28-year quest to convince us that monsters are okay, really. It comes in a number of increasingly fancy vinyl versions (some of which are limited editions, so be quick) and CD on Merge.
Vinyl Double LP £20.99 MRG679LP
Black vinyl 2LP on Merge, housed in a gatefold sleeve.
- Shipping cost: £4.50 ?
- Includes download code
CD £11.49 MRG679CD
CD on Merge in a gatefold wallet with 16-page lyric booklet.
- Shipping cost: £1.05 ?
Limited Vinyl Double LP £42.99 MRG679LPXX
Indies only, Hardcore Edition, yellow & green marble vinyl 2LP in gatefold jacket + bonus black vinyl 7" single. Housed in a debossed, dragon scale slipcase + Dragon League membership card. Edition of 3300 copies.
Limited Vinyl Double LP £25.99 MRG679LPC1
Indies only green vinyl 2LP in gatefold jacket + bonus black vinyl 7" single. Edition of 2000 copies.
The absolute best thing about the Mountain Goats is how they've successfully seamed the transition from indie boys to grown men. John Darnielle in particular rivals Ben Gibbard in his ability to match indie Tees with grown ups suit jackets. Musically they are truly grown up now, less the yelping folk of before and now a sort of smooth heartland rock. Opener Done Bleeding is a slow burning drift of Bruce Hornsby-ish balladry - pre experimental era Bruce Hornsby you understand with lashings of keyboards under a nasal narrative. You'll have possibly already heard lead single Younger which I totally love. This is a sort of thing where even if you don't like the Mountain Goats you'll may well love. A strummy acoustic guitar passage, a few droplets of piano, shuffling drum patterns, slowly unfurling vocals. A winner for everyone.
It's amazing how calmed down they've become, Darnielle describes the album as "wizard noir" and states that the album "began life as a rock opera about a besieged seaside community called Riversend ruled by a benevolent wizard". None of the music ends up as out there as that sounds and it is possibly a clever move to ensure that Mountain Goats stay separated from the millions of gently folky bands tickling the ears of the Pitchfork generation.
Although there are some lovely lilting moments, Darnielle is capable of making truly awful music. Possum By Night is a kind of go nowhere piece of musical theatre which I never want to hear again as long as I live but it segues into the title track which rivals Younger for the album highlight award. Again it's gently rolling folk rock - Darnielle's once dangerously nasal voice now an agreeable whinny.
I'm sure there's all kind of conversations to be had about the lyrical output here. I'm not sold on the 'rock opera' backstory. Instead what I hear is an album by a swiftly maturing band which places a couple too many barely listenable oddities amidst the enjoyable acoustic folk compositions found elsewhere.
8/10 LH Customer review, 11th May 2019
John Darnielle's songwriting is always reliably strong, but he finds little touches to separate each of his albums and for the past couple, he's started to take bigger leaps in that department with more outrageous concepts (wrestling! goths!) or particular instrumental decisions (no guitars!). Dragons' signature move isn't its vague D&D connections but rather Owen Pallett's lush production. Pallet not only brings in his signature orchestral flourishes, but the production and arrangement departments are generally gorgeous throughout, lending the songs an aural depth that hasn't really been heard in the prior TMG releases. There's also a greater emphasis to Darnielle's bandmates and their particular talents, and if there's an album that might finally turn Mountain Goats in people's eyes from a purely Darnielle-centric act to an actual band, it'll be this one.
Don't make the focus on the sound distract you from the actual songcraft - if anything, the bolder production pairs up briliantly with Darnielle branching his writing further. The songs feature a surprising amount of range, from the more typical TMG-fare to New Order-esque synths ("Sicilian Crest") and atmospheric bombast in vein of 80s Peter Gabriel ("Possum by Night") to surprisingly tight, locked grooves ("Younger") and brushes with americana ("Waylon Jennings Live"). The consistency is there: apart from a couple of less interesting cuts (the aforementioned "Waylon Jennings Live" which sticks out like a sore thumb and the slightly forgettable "Doc Gooden"), In League with Dragons keeps things sailing high and mighty. Apart from already mentioned highlights "Younger" and "Sicilian Crest", the restless "Cadaver Sniffing Dog", classy opener "Done Bleeding" and vaguely R.E.M.-esque "Passaic 1975" are ready to make the leap into the wider TMG canon of excellent choice cuts.
Darnielle is very adamantly continuing to move further and further away from the intimate Mountain Goats albums of yore so if you're still lamenting at the loss of the tape recorder, In League with Dragons isn't likely to convince you any otherwise. As part of Darnielle's current musical evolution though, it's another sure-fire excellent Mountain Goats release - now lusher than ever.
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