The Mountain Goats - Songs for Pierre Chuvin Music Album Reviews

Recording on the same boombox that launched his career, John Darnielle returns to his lo-fi roots for an album of alienation, ancient pagans, and making it through the year together.

John Darnielle’s music has arrived so steadily and with such consistency that the changes the Mountain Goats have undergone can feel secondary to his own growth as a writer. Over the last three decades, a project with the loneliest of origins—a man at home with an acoustic guitar, a primitive tape recorder, and a pinched, inimitable voice—has grown into a full band with their own distinctive and expanding sound. Their albums from the past 10 years have seen an increased focus on the musicians around him: longtime bassist Peter Hughes, drummer Jon Wurster, multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas, and collaborators that have ranged from a men’s choir to a metal producer, a symphony orchestra and a horn section. You could imagine a trajectory in which Darnielle blends deeper into this foreground, exploring how each new embellishment affects the cadence of his rich, referential storytelling.

This was the plan as recently as a month ago, when the quartet gathered to work on the follow-up to 2019’s lush In League With Dragons. But as the effects of COVID-19 made it impossible to continue recording together, and as the material Darnielle prepared began to feel at odds with the escalating news cycle, he returned home and changed direction. In his bedroom, during 90-minute breaks away from his family, he wrote one new song a day, all inspired by A Chronicle of the Last Pagans, a dense text published in 1990 by the French historian Pierre Chuvin. For the sake of immediacy—and maybe familiarity—he recorded each song on the Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox that documented his earliest compositions.

This very boombox, purchased in the late ’80s, served as Darnielle’s first essential collaborator, its harsh, unrelenting whirr once inseparable from his songwriting. It was so integral that a portion of his devoted fan base felt betrayed when he signed to 4AD after 2002’s classic All Hail West Texas and took to professional studios, adopted cleaner textures, and, eventually, recruited a band. For this contingent of fans, his new album, Songs for Pierre Chuvin, might signal a long-awaited return to form; it is a brief but thoughtful collection marked by old-school production, deep allusions to his songbook, and performances that could be placed among those early pillars. Yet it doesn’t feel like pandering. Despite the familiar sound and old-world setting (4th and 5th century, to be exact), these songs never look back for too long. They feel like another step forward.

Over the years, Darnielle has become increasingly adept at summarizing the disparate worldviews of his characters in catchy, unlikely refrains. As with everything he puts to tape, there are a couple here that you could sing along with by the time the second verse starts. The chorus of the opening song, “Aulon Raid,” sets the tone: “We will deeeeal with you/Me and my paaaa-gan crew.” These observations from a collapsing society are at turns hopeful, wistful, and enraged. Alone, Darnielle takes audible delight in finding the right backdrop for each story, from the Casio hum of “The Wooded Hills Along the Black Sea” to the terse grind of “Until Olympius Returns.” Even if you have never been a member of a small community fearing extinction—say, ancient pagans at the hands of Christians, or lo-fi purists bemoaning a more polished technique—his words ring with righteous purpose.

Amid the social distancing and mass cancellations of the past month, I had already been thinking about Darnielle’s music. His catalog is filled with odes to the small communities we build for ourselves: the divine congregations at rock concerts (“Satanic Messiah”) and wrestling matches (2015’s Beat the Champ); among people with similar dependencies (2004’s We Shall All Be Healed) and fashion choices (2017’s Goths). He has also written from pockets of deep isolation. His quiet 2006 album Get Lonely is devoted entirely to this subject, with an opening track that spends its runtime contemplating the inherent danger of leaving the house. Pierre Chuvin finds its place among these desperate stories. “Return the peace you took from me/Give me back my community,” he sings late in the album. In another song, a character casts a skeptical eye from his hillside exile: “Sometimes forget there’s cities down there,” he chants in a matter-of-fact verse, his tone somewhere between self-sufficiency and total alienation.

In moments like these, Darnielle’s writing feels newly political and wide-reaching, a comforting shift from the more insular narratives of his last few concept albums. But he closes the record with a nod to his own mythology. On the climactic “Exegetic Chains,” Darnielle expresses gratitude for the faithful grind of his boombox and repurposes the chorus of his signature song: “Make it through this year,” he urges in a near-whisper, “if it kills us outright.” It’s the echo of a message that’s often shouted through tears at the end of his shows: a personal mantra turned outward, an old prayer sung like intimate advice. This, he suggests, is how we might get by. When he started writing songs, recording to tape was a necessity: a quick, inexpensive way to document his thoughts. Now it’s a gesture of faith. The proceeds from this release go to his bandmates and crew, the people who count on his work for income. The initial run sold out in minutes; it’s currently in its third pressing. He wants to make sure the people who need it can hear it, that they can hold it in their hands.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
The Mountain Goats - Songs for Pierre Chuvin Music Album Reviews The Mountain Goats - Songs for Pierre Chuvin Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on April 23, 2020 Rating: 5


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