Dark In Here by the Mountain Goats album review by Adam Fink for Northern Transmissions

Merge Records

7

the Mountain Goats

Dark In Here

John Darnielle is nothing if not prolific. Over the last three decades the singer/songwriter and his band have released a pretty consistent and consistently good output of material. On the cusp of the world shutting down in March 2020, The Mountain Goats got together at the fabled Sam Phillips Studios in Memphis and FAME studios in Muscle Shoals to record two albums of new material.

Last year’s wonderful Getting Into Knives and their latest and twentieth studio album, Dark In Here. The latter was meant to be a surprise release, dropped just as the band was set to embark on a world tour. With the pandemic forcing Darnielle and company to scrap their dates it was postponed until now. Where Getting Into Knives had a spontaneous vibe about it, employing to great use the room in which it was recorded, to capture the spirit of and feel of Memphis through the history of the Sam Phillips Studio, Dark In Here feels tighter, more focused and decidedly, well, darker.

The production on Dark In Here continues in the progression of the band’s live aesthetic that their albums often employ. It is the sound of a group of players that feel very comfortable with each other. The rhythm section of Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster move so naturally together that their easy groove belies their masterful playing. On songs such as the album’s title track and “Before I Got There”, the pair are locked, create the tidiest bits of tension and take their time allowing the story of the songs to casually unfold around them. Darnielle is also in fine form here. The songwriter certainly has an ease in which he spins a tale and the tales he tells throughout the running time of Dark In Here are ones that will sneak up on you emotionally. Like when he sings on “To The Headless Horseman”, “And as you approached, I could sense the threat/But a stranger’s just a friеnd who hasn’t shared their secrеts yet.” Over the years Darnielle has made his case for being an amazing lyricist and here his songwriting skills shine through the darkness of the material in which he casts his gaze.

Unfortunately, the pandemic changed The Mountain Goats release and tour plans but it is almost better this way that Dark In Here gets to stand on its own and not seen as an afterthought of an album, surprise released before a tour to support another. At this point in their career the band is the best they have ever sounded and Darnielle’s lyrical acumen is still something wonderful to behold. When he sings over the kinetic brush work of Wurster and a mournful saxophone on “When A Powerful Animal Comes”, “Life is short, and life is hard, and life is sweet.”, he manages to capture the exact feeling of listening to a Mountain Goats record.

Order Dark In Here by the Mountain Goats HERE